US benchmark West Texas Intermediate for January delivery sank $1.16 in mid-morning trade to $54.77 while Brent crude for February fell 82 cents to $59.19 on the contract’s first day of trading.
Brent for January finished down $1.20 at $59.86 in London, after slipping below the psychological $60 for the first time since July 2009.
Oil investors are closely watching the situation in crude producer Russia after the ruble on Tuesday crashed to new record lows against the dollar, losing some 20 percent in value.
The slump came despite the country’s central bank hiking interest rates from 10.5 percent to 17 percent. Russia’s economy has been battered by slumping oil prices and Western sanctions over Moscow’s support for Ukrainian separatists.
“Should oil prices fall further, then worries may increasingly grow among Russian corporates and households,” Credit Agricole said in a commentary.
With demand for the safer US dollar in Russia, “authorities may have to consider measures to cap expectations of bank runs”, the French lender said.
Dealers will next focus on the release later Wednesday of a US oil supply report for clues about demand in the world’s top crude consumer, analysts said.
Analysts surveyed by the Wall Street Journal tipped reserves to have fallen by 1.9 million barrels on average in the week to December 12.
However, oil prices are expected to stay at multi-year lows owing to weak global demand and the OPEC oil cartel’s refusal to cut output despite a global supply glut. (AFP)