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Oil falls more than $1 as crimped demand outweighs stimulus hopes

By Laila Kearney
FILE PHOTO: The sun sets behind a crude oil pump jack on a drill pad in the Permian Basin in Loving County

By Laila Kearney

NEW YORK (Reuters) - Oil prices lost more than $1 a barrel on Thursday as restrictions on travel worldwide slashed fuel demand, with U.S. crude futures plunging more than 6% after the United States scrapped plans to buy domestic oil for its emergency reserve.

The head of the International Energy Agency said global oil demand could drop as much as 20 million barrels per day or 20% of total demand as 3 billion people are currently in a lockdown because of the coronavirus outbreak.

Concerns about demand also overshadowed expectations that a $2 trillion U.S. stimulus package will bolster economic activity.

West Texas Intermediate (WTI) crude futures dropped $1.60, or 6.5%, to $22.89 a barrel by 1:15 p.m. EDT (1715 GMT). Brent crude futures fell $1.06 to $26.33, or 3.9%, a barrel. Both contracts are down about 60% this year.

"Concerns around the demand outlook continue to worsen by the day," said John Kilduff, a partner at Again Capital in New York. "It's just incessant downward pressure on this complex."

U.S. futures were notably weaker than international benchmark Brent crude. The U.S. Department of Energy scrapped a plan to purchase domestic crude oil for its Strategic Petroleum Reserve (SPR) after funding was not included in the broader stimulus package.

"The SPR element is totally a domestic issue and it has been percolating in the market for a couple weeks," said Bob Yawger, director of futures Mizuho in New York. "There was a certain assumption that it was going to happen so you had that backstop, to a certain degree, that didn't exist for the international benchmark."

The U.S. Senate unanimously passed the $2 trillion bill aimed at helping struggling workers and industries hurt by the impact of the coronavirus epidemic, and sent the legislation to the House of Representatives. The House is expected to vote on Friday.

But with demand disappearing and output rising, the outlook for oil is bleak.

The weakening demand is leading oil refineries from Texas to Thailand to reduce operating rates.

The world's top oil and gas companies have cut spending by about 20%, including majors Chevron, Total and Royal Dutch Shell.

Brazil's Petrobras said it was dialling back short-term production by 100,000 bpd, delaying a dividend payment and trimming its 2020 investment plan.

At the same time, the collapse of a supply-cut pact between the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries and other producers led by Russia, known as OPEC+, is set to boost oil supply, with Saudi Arabia planning to ship more than 10 million bpd from May. (GRAPHIC: Global oil slump: https://reut.rs/39ieums/)

Oil stockpiles are already rising with tanks around the world filling fast despite a 50%-100% jump in leasing costs.

U.S. crude inventories rose by 1.6 million barrels last week, marking the ninth straight week of increases. Products supplied, a proxy for U.S. demand, dropped nearly 10% to 19.4 million bpd, government data showed on Wednesday.


(Additional reporting by Ron Busso in London, Roslan Khasawneh in Singapore and Sonali Paul in Melbourne; Editing by Marguerita Choy, Susan Fenton and Cynthia Osterman)