Jan 28, 2020 - Science

Oil markets may be overly spooked by coronavirus' energy impact

A picture of a park in Wuhan, China.
Two pedestrians in Jiangtan Park on Jan. 27 during the lockdown in Wuhan, China. Photo: Getty Images

Some analysts are beginning to wonder if oil markets are overly spooked by the potential for the coronavirus to dent energy demand as travel and economic activity are crimped.

Why it matters: The human health toll is what matters most, with at least 107 people dead so far. But the coronavirus is also rattling markets, and is arriving when the oil market was already awash in supplies and demand growth was modest.

  • China, where the outbreak is centered, is the world's largest oil importer and flights in the region are a massive source of jet fuel consumption.

What they're saying: "Several questions remain unanswered about the potential fallout from the coronavirus, but if the experience from the 2003 SARS outbreak is any indication, demand worries are likely overdone," Barclays said in a note.

  • RBC Capital Markets said in a report: "We believe coronavirus is a Chinese jet fuel demand story for now and not yet a global demand story."
  • Their report, while noting the outbreak is still unfolding, says that right now the price decline is "overextended" compared to supply and demand fundamentals.

What's next: Who knows? "[C]alling the bottom of a market with any degree of conviction during periods of epidemics is exceedingly difficult," RBC notes, citing fear in the marketplace.

Where it stands: OPEC "wants to extend current oil output cuts until at least June, with the possibility of deeper reductions on the table if oil demand in China is significantly impacted by the spread of a new coronavirus," Reuters reports this morning.

  • Brent crude is hanging around in the $58 per barrel range this morning, with this week reporting the lowest in over three months despite conflict in Libya that's cutting output.

By the numbers: Barclays' note sees global crude oil demand loss related to the virus at around 600,000 to 800,000 barrels per day in Q1 and around 200,000 for the full year, which they note is less than 0.2% of global demand.

  • They also see OPEC and allied producers stepping in with more supply cuts if demand loss is more severe.

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