“The supply-and-demand balance for oil is so out of whack that global demand cannot grow fast enough and suppliers can’t cut supply quickly enough to put things back in order,” said Frank Verrastro of the Center for Strategic and International Studies. “There is so much oil sloshing around the world and so few people using it that there is no remedy. Even President’s Trump toolbox looks bare.”
However, Trump said the administration would move swiftly to shore up the industry.
“We will never let the great U.S. Oil & Gas Industry down,” he said in a Twitter post. “I have instructed the Secretary of Energy and Secretary of the Treasury to formulate a plan which will make funds available so that these very important companies and jobs will be secured long into the future!”
Stocks plunged Tuesday for the second day in a row, with the Dow Jones industrial average falling more than 631 points, or 2.7 percent, to finish at 23,018.88. The broader Standard & Poor’s 500 dropped 86 points, or 3 percent, to end at 2,736.56. The tech-heavy Nasdaq plunged nearly 298 points, or 3.5 percent, to 8,263.23. All three indexes had pared back even deeper losses.
IBM, Apple, Intel and Microsoft were among the big drags on the Dow. All 11 S&P 500 stock sectors were negative.
West Texas Intermediate crude, the U.S. benchmark, traded near $13 a barrel Tuesday for June contracts after dropping as low as $6.55. Brent futures were selling for roughly $19 a barrel at the close, its lowest level in 18 years.
“The collapse in oil drives home the stark drop in economic activity around the world due to this virus,” said John Kilduff of Again Capital. “That puts a fine point on what we are staring down here.”
Analysts said nearly 40 million Saudi Arabian barrels are on their way to U.S. shores, adding to the tens of millions already in storage here. The deliveries are “probably going to be the final dagger in the heart of the U.S. shale oil industry,” said Kilduff, adding that the Saudis need to cut production immediately.
The surplus is so pervasive that producers are storing oil in giant tanker ships that are roaming oceans, looking for a place to unload. An estimated 10 percent of the world’s oil tankers are currently being used for storage, according to the Wall Street Journal.
The oil crisis emerged as U.S. companies already are dealing with one of the most challenging environments in their histories. Companies have begun a critical earnings season that will test how they are weathering the public health lockdown and what their outlook is for the remainder of the year.
Coca-Cola offered some clues of what is coming. The beverage giant, reporting before the start of trading Tuesday, reported a big drop in worldwide sales in April as restaurants, ballparks, movie theaters and other entertainment venues have closed. Still, first-quarter results beat expectations, and the company expects numbers will pick up in the latter half of the year.
“The ultimate impact on the second quarter and full year 2020 is unknown at this time, as it will depend heavily on the duration of social distancing and shelter-in-place mandates, as well as the substance and pace of macroeconomic recovery,” Coke said in a news release.
Phillip Morris reported a strong first quarter, but chief executive André Calantzopoulos cautioned, “We expect that the pandemic will have adverse impacts on our full-year 2020 business results.”
Wall Street started Monday riding a two-week bounce amid reports of promising scientific advances against the coronavirus and on gradual movements by national and state governments to begin easing lockdown curbs. The S&P 500 jumped 15 percent in the two-week span.
The stock advances began to evaporate as Monday’s oil sell-off spread. Then came Tuesday’s pullback in technology. Microsoft, Amazon, Google-parent Alphabet, Facebook and Netflix all went negative after weeks of gains. (Amazon founder Jeff Bezos owns The Washington Post.)
Ed Yardeni, president of Yardeni Research, said Tuesday’s sell-off was partly due to the dive in oil prices and partly due to profit-taking from some investors who saw opportunity after the two-week run-up in stocks.
“It’s unnerving to see negative oil prices, and let’s not forget the market has had a heck of a rally in recent weeks,” Yardeni said. “There is going to be some profit-taking by people who are seeing this as an opportunity to sell.”
May contracts for West Texas Intermediate crude (WTI) were about to expire Tuesday, forcing holders on the contracts to unload their oil at a loss. June WTI contracts, which account for future oil deliveries, were faring a bit better, selling at around $16. That remains far below the break-even mark for companies and most oil-producing countries.
Most oil producers need an oil price at least in the range of $50 to $60 per barrel, which allows them to make a profit. Oil prices have collapsed this year, with WTI dropping more than 100 percent based on Monday’s market.