Market Overview

A historic oil price collapse, with worries headed into 2021

Even as global prices end the year at about $51 a barrel, near the average for 2015-2017, it masks a year of volatility. In April, U.S. crude plunged deep into negative territory and Brent dropped below $20 per barrel, slammed by the COVID-19 pandemic and a price war between oil giants Saudi Arabia and Russia.

The remainder of 2020 was spent recovering from that drop as the pandemic destroyed fuel demand around the world. While the short-lived decline of U.S. oil futures below negative-$40 a barrel is not likely to be repeated in 2021, new lockdowns and a phased rollout of vaccines to treat the virus will restrain demand next year, and perhaps beyond.

Fossil-fuel demand in coming years could remain softer even after the pandemic as countries seek to limit emissions to slow climate change. Major oil companies, such as BP Plc and Total SE, published forecasts that include scenarios where global oil demand may have peaked in 2019.

World oil and liquid fuels production fell in 2020 to 94.25 million barrels per day (bpd) from 100.61 million bpd in 2019, and output is expected to recover only to 97.42 million bpd next year, the Energy Information Administration said.

As coronavirus cases spread, governments imposed lockdowns, keeping residents indoors and off the roads. Consumption of world crude and liquid fuels fell to 92.4 million bpd for the year, a 9% drop from 101.2 million bpd in 2019, EIA said.

The changing landscape poses a threat to refiners. About 1.5 million bpd of processing capacity has been taken off the market, Morgan Stanley said.

Worldwide crude distillation capacity is expected to keep rising, according to GlobalData, but falling demand and weak margins for gasoline, diesel and other fuels has prompted refineries in Asia and North America to close or curtail output, including several facilities along the U.S. Gulf Coast.

The Cboe Crude Oil ETF Volatility Index surged to a record 517.19 in April. The index has since dropped to around 40, but that is still about 60% higher than this time a year ago, Refinitiv Eikon data shows.

A historic oil price collapse, with worries headed into 2021, Reuters, Dec 29

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