Oil Slides 4.8% to Close at a Five-Month Low

By Stephanie Yang and Sarah McFarlaneFeaturesDow Jones Newswires

Oil prices fell to a five-month low Thursday, as investors have become increasingly skeptical of OPEC's abilities to ease a global supply glut amid elevated U.S. crude production and inventories.

Light, sweet crude for June delivery fell $2.30, or 4.8%, to $45.52 a barrel on the New York Mercantile Exchange, the lowest settlement since Nov. 29. Brent, the global oil benchmark, fell $2.41, or 4.7% to $48.38 a barrel.

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The recent selloff in oil has erased most of the gains made after the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries agreed in November to cut production. Other non-OPEC producers, including Russia, joined the deal late last year, bringing expected cuts to about 1.8 million barrels a day.

However, growing activity from U.S. shale producers has sparked concerns among investors that the rebalancing of the oil market won't come as quickly, or easily, as many analysts had forecast.

"There's just been a real loss of confidence of the effectiveness of the OPEC and non-OPEC deal," said John Kilduff, founding partner of Again Capital. "You're seeing a lot of supply still around the world."

Meanwhile, inventories of crude oil and products in the U.S. have remained at high levels. Data from the U.S. Energy Information Administration on Wednesday showed a modest decline in crude stockpiles and an increase in gasoline supplies.

"It was somewhat disturbing that gasoline inventories went up yet another week, counter-seasonally, and of course we saw continued increasing U.S. crude-oil production," said Bjarne Schieldrop, chief commodities analyst at SEB Markets.

With a large amount of oil and gasoline in storage, market participants are also worried about weakening demand from U.S. consumers, particularly going into the summer season when demand usually rises. Over the past four weeks, gasoline sales fell 2.7% from a year earlier, according to EIA data.

Lower-than-expected growth in gross domestic product in the first quarter may also be contributing to concerns about demand, said John Saucer, vice president of research and analysis at Mobius Risk Group in Houston.

"It certainly may have reinforced people's negative expectations for U.S. oil demand going forward," Mr. Saucer said. "That just feeds into that negative spiral. This is going to be a rough week."

Dismal demand signals led to a broad drop in commodities Thursday, as metal prices also fell on lackluster economic data from China, a major commodities consumer.

As U.S. producers continue to unleash a steady, and strong, stream of shale oil into the market, it intensifies pressures on OPEC and Russia to continue keeping their output capped to prevent further price erosion. An official decision on whether to extend cuts will be announced when the group meets later this month.

Rising production in Libya, which is exempt from the OPEC cuts, added to the bearish sentiment in the market on Thursday, RBC Capital Markets analysts said. However, the change in supply may be short-lived, given the geopolitical unrest in the country.

Gasoline futures fell 3.4% to $1.4812 a gallon and diesel futures lost 4.2% to $1.4123 a gallon, both closing at the lowest level since November.

--Jenny W. Hsu contributed to this article.

Write to Stephanie Yang at stephanie.yang@wsj.com and Sarah McFarlane at sarah.mcfarlane@wsj.com

(END) Dow Jones Newswires

May 04, 2017 16:50 ET (20:50 GMT)