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Oil Plunges Most Since 2008 on Unraveling Saudi-Russia Alliance

Jackie Davalos
Oil Plunges Most Since 2008 on Unraveling Saudi-Russia Alliance

(Bloomberg) -- Oil in London plunged the most since 2008 on signs of a breakdown in the global producer alliance that helped engineer crude’s recovery from the worst crash in a generation.

Futures plummeted more than 9% in London as talks between members of the OPEC+ group collapsed in Vienna. Producers in the alliance are free to pump at will starting next month, after Russia refused to bend to Saudi Arabia’s wish for output cuts aimed at offsetting the coronavirus crisis’s impact on demand.

The end of the talks without a deal raises the prospect of another war for market share among producers, which had exacerbated crude’s collapse back in 2014 amid a global glut. The OPEC+ alliance was formed in 2016 after the price crash imperiled economies dependent on oil revenue and led to a wave of bankruptcies among smaller exploration companies across the globe.

Oil’s plunge of Friday was mirrored in shares of producers, with Exxon Mobil Corp. sliding 5% and Chevron Corp. dropping 3.3%. Global markets are already in a precarious condition, with investors fleeing risk assets on mounting fears that the coronavirus outbreak will derail economic growth.

“There’s going to be pain for everyone in oil markets,” said Josh Graves, senior market strategist at RJ O’Brien & Associates. “The collapse of this deal means we’re going to see oil test $40 a barrel.”

Russia resisted pressure from allies in the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries to join a 1.5 million-barrel supply reduction, saying it favors maintaining supply reductions at current levels until June. Moscow is said to still be willing to have a meeting with OPEC and allies in June.

The collapse in discussions is the latest escalation of tensions between the Saudi-Russia alliance. Unlike other oil-exporting nations, Russia has a higher tolerance for lower prices given its plentiful international reserves, low debt levels, and resilient fiscal budget.

OPEC+, which controls more than half of the world’s oil production, has underpinned prices and reshaped the geopolitics of the Middle East, but is now under significant strain.

West Texas Intermediate futures for April delivery fell $4.62 to $41.28 a barrel on the New York Mercantile Exchange. Brent for May settlement dropped $4.72 to $45.27 on the London-based ICE Futures Europe Exchange.

The structure of the futures market revealed concerning signs of oversupply as Brent’s so-called red spread -- the difference between December contracts in consecutive years -- sank deeper into bearish contango, reaching the lowest level since 2016.

--With assistance from James Thornhill, Alex Longley and Saket Sundria.

To contact the reporter on this story: Jackie Davalos in New York at jdavalos10@bloomberg.net

To contact the editors responsible for this story: David Marino at dmarino4@bloomberg.net, Pratish Narayanan, Steven Frank

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