Mar 18, 2020 - Energy & Environment

Oil plunges and industry pain spreads

An oil rig.
Photo: Carsten Rehder/picture alliance via Getty Images

This morning is bringing fresh and stark signs of how economic contraction from COVID-19 is crushing the oil market and forcing companies to cut back.

The big picture: The price collapse stems from COVID-19 freezing a significant amount of travel and economic activity, and the collapse of the Saudi-Russia agreement to limit production.

Threat level: "An OPEC+ supply surge and crumbling oil demand are leading to concerns about a surplus that could overwhelm global storage," BofA Global Research said in a note this morning (emphasis added).

Driving the news: The number of companies announcing spending and workforce cutbacks keeps growing.

  • This morning, the huge U.S. producer ConocoPhillips said it would cut $700 million from its planned capital spending this year and scale back its share buy-back program.
  • Oilfield services giant Halliburton is furloughing about 3,500 employees in Houston as oil producers slow operations, per Reuters.
  • "The sudden crash in global oil prices has prompted Australian oil and gas producer Oil Search to cancel sale talks and slash spending by up to $675 million by shelving projects around the world," the Sydney Morning Herald reports.
  • Argus Media's Ben Winkley, via Twitter, tallies several more announcements as they come "thick and fast."

What's next: Analysts are racing to update their estimates of how much global oil demand is cratering. Rystad Energy this morning sharply revised their projections from a week ago.

  • They now see year-over-year demand dropping 2.8 million barrels per day, which would be a 2.8% decline. A week ago they were projecting only a 600,000 barrel per day full-year drop.
  • "At the moment we expect the month of April to take the biggest hit, with demand for oil falling by as much as 11 million bpd year on year," the consultancy notes.
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