West Texas Intermediate was down 2.74% to $48.90 a barrel today as of noon New York time. International benchmark Brent crude was lower by 2.60% to $51.73 a barrel.
The drop in West Texas Intermediate brought the price per barrel below the psychologically important $50 level. Oil had already tumbled 5.7% in the last three trading sessions.
I ran through the reasons for the fall yesterday: U.S. inventories rose by 8.2 million barrels to the highest level in weekly government data that stretches back to 1982. Doubts grew about slow OPEC compliance with agreed upon production cuts. Projections showed that U.S. oil production from shale geologies would rise by more than expected in 2017. And traders unwound long futures positions in crude that had hit record levels.
That unwinding certainly continued today with volume on options of West Texas Intermediate climbing to 518,604 contracts. Volatility, as measured by the CBOE Crude Oil Volatility Index, rose to a six-week high.
The plunge in oil prices hit shares of oil producers hard and shares of oil service and equipment providers even harder. Pioneer Natural Resources (PXD) and Encana (ECA) were down 0.61% and 3.52%, respectively. Fracking sand producers U.S. Silica Holdings (SLCA) and Hi-Crush Partners (HCLP) plunged 8.95% and 13.33%, respectively.
The plunge in oil seems to have triggered a rethinking, at least at the moment, of the reflation trade that has driven the market since the election. The Trump administration, the logic of this trade went, would pile stimulus from a big infrastructure spending plan and tax cuts onto an economy that was already cooking near full employment. And that would trigger a rise in inflation that would work to the benefit of commodity producers, emerging markets, and banks in particular, but also stocks in general. That seems less certain today since much of the higher headline inflation that has supported this logic was based on higher energy prices. If energy costs are coming down, so will inflation. Which undercuts the premise of the reflation trade.
So today we’re seeing a drop in global commodities. Copper, for example, is down 0.83% today as of noon and shares of Freeport McMoRan Copper and Gold (FCX) are lower by 1.09%. The iShares MSCI Emerging Markets ETF (EEM) is off 0.94%.
It hash’t helped commodities and emerging market stocks that the dollar is up again today although the U.S. currency remains 1.3% below its post-election peak.