NEW YORK — Oil prices are plunging amid worries that an OPEC dispute will lead an economy weakened by COVID-19 to be awash in an oversupply of crude.
Brent crude, the international standard, lost $8.77, or 19.3%, to $36.50, as of 7:23 p.m. Eastern time on Sunday after earlier touching its lowest price since early 2016. Benchmark U.S. crude fell $8.11 to $33.17.
The dramatic losses follow a 10.1% drop for U.S. oil on Friday, which was its biggest loss in more than five years. Prices are falling as Saudi Arabia, Russia and other oil-producing countries argue how much to cut production in order to prop up prices.
Demand is falling as people cut back on travel around the world. The worry is that the new coronavirus will slow economies sharply, meaning even less demand.
It’s been a brutal and dizzying couple weeks for financial markets worldwide. The U.S. stock market is down 12.2% since setting its record last month on worries about how much corporate profits will fall because of COVID-19.
The virus usually leaves people with only mild to moderate symptoms, but because it’s new, experts can’t say for sure how far it will ultimately spread and how much damage it will do, both to health and to the economy. The number of cases has reached 109,000 globally, and Italy on Sunday tried to quarantine a region holding more than a quarter of its population in hopes of corralling it.
If the number of new infections slows in other parts of the world as it has in China, if the U.S. jobs market remains as solid as it’s been and if all the unease in markets ends up creating just a short-term dip in confidence among shoppers, all this may recede quickly. But those are a lot of potential pain points.
“There are more if’s than at any other time in this 11-year bull market,” say strategists at BTIG.