As of noon New York time, U.S. benchmark set Texas Intermediate was off 2.9% to $42.92 a barrel–below, again, not just $45 but the $43 a barrel level that has provided support. International benchmark Brent crude was off 2.56% to $45.71. A break in Brent below $45 would worry traders. (West Texas Intermediate closed down 1.95% to $43.34 a barrel)
Today’s moves take oil to a 7-month low. And oil is now in an official bear market for 2017 with West Texas Intermediate down 20% from its February 23, 2017 high at $54.45 a barrel.
Why the tumble?
First, worries that OPEC’s agreement to cut production is fraying. Libya, which is an OPEC member but which was exempted from production cuts in the OPEC agreement, is pumping the most crude in four years after a deal that reopened at least two fields to production. The amount of oil stored in moored tankers, a measure of how much extra supply remains on global markets, hit a 2017 high earlier this month. That’s a big negative for traders who have been waiting to see how fast OPEC cuts would reduce the global surplus.
Second, U.S. oil shale production continues to climb. The count of U.S. active oil rigs has climbed to the highest level since April 2015. U.S. oil production rose to 9.33 million barrels a day in the week ended on June 9. That’s the highest level since August 2015. And, finally, the number of drilled-but-uncompleted wells in U.S. oil fields climbed to 5,946 at the end of May. That;’s the highest number in three years. Those uncompleted wells will be completed and put into production at any sign that oil prices are rising. That puts a big damper on any potential price rally.
Everything in the sector is down today (with the exception of Argentina oil company YPF (YPF), which is up on the rally in Argentine stocks.) Even a low-cost Permian Basin producers such as Pioneer Natural Resources (PXD) was down by 0.57% at the close. Suppliers of fracking sand to U.S. drillers have been especially hard hit with Hi-Crush Partners, for instance, off another 5.12% to $9.73 intraday.(Hi-Crush moved up into the close to end the day up 1.46%)
The U.S. Energy Information Administration releases numbers on U.S. crude supplies tomorrow that are expected to show a draw down of 1.2 million barrels. Any disappointment on that number will likely fuel a further decline. Confirmation of that expectation isn’t likely, by itself, to slow the drop.
Somewhere between today’s price and $38 a barrel, though, oil prices will get low enough to bring money back into this trade. (Pioneer Natural Resources is a member of my long term 50 Stocks Portfolio; YPF is a member of my Volatility Portfolio.)