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US crude falls below $28 as IEA warns market could ‘drown in oil’

SINGAPORE: US crude tumbled below $28 a barrel in Asia on Wednesday, hitting new 12-year lows, after the International Energy Agency (IEA) warned that the oil market could “drown in oversupply”.

West Texas Intermediate (WTI), the US benchmark, fell to levels last seen in September 2003, striking $27.55 a barrel at one point.

At around 0500 GMT, the contract was trading at $27.68, down 78 cents, or 2.74 percent. WTI had closed at $27.13 on September 23, 2003, after hitting an intra-day bottom of $27.10.

Brent crude — which briefly fell below $28 on Monday to levels not seen since November 2003 — was 48 cents lower at $28.28.

“The IEA report played a big part in the price decline,” said Phillip Futures analyst Daniel Ang, adding that this underscored the current “bearishness in the market”.

He also said the WTI February contract was due to expire later in the week, which could have prompted traders to roll over their positions to the March contract.

The IEA said Tuesday oil prices are set to fall further this year as supply vastly exceeds demand, with major oil exporter Iran’s return to the market offsetting any production cuts from other countries.

“Can it go any lower?” the IEA said. “Unless something changes, the oil market could drown in oversupply. So the answer to our question is an emphatic yes. It could go lower.”

The market has been awash with supplies owing to high production levels in the United States and in the OPEC cartel, which last year rejected calls to slash output as it looks to maintain its market share.

– Focus on Iran –

Prices have crashed about 75 percent since mid-2014, hit by a perfect storm of a supply glut, weak demand, a slowing global economy and a strong dollar.

The oil crisis has caused ructions across global markets, wiping trillions of dollars off valuations, with weak demand for the commodity signalling weakness in economies. The tumbling prices have also led to major energy firms scaling back or cancelling investment and projects, and laying off thousands of workers.

“Clearly there is a further focus on the potential for Iranian additions to daily supply,” said Michael McCarthy, chief market strategist at CMC Markets Australia.

“On top of that, there are further concerns that there’s a stockpile to be cleared in Iran now that sanctions have been lifted,” he told AFP by telephone from Sydney.

“Coming on top of a very fragile pricing environment, that’s clearly had an impact.”

Iran on Monday ordered a boost to crude production a day after the West lifted sanctions on the country in response to Tehran’s compliance with a deal on curbing its nuclear programme.

Iran’s National Iranian Oil Company said it had ordered output to increase by 500,000 barrels per day. The country currently produces 2.8 million barrels per day and exports just over a million.

“It’s the supply side that is getting the focus at the moment. The demand aspect is a longer term proposition for the market,” added McCarthy.

“We’re now outside fundamentals and for that reason it is very difficult to forecast where it will stop. When markets panic, they become unpredictable.”

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