COVID-19: Shares, Oil Crash in New Market Freefall

Published March 17th, 2020 - 06:09 GMT
COVID-19: Shares, Oil Crash in New Market Freefall
Trading had begun on Wall Street after a weekend when the US Federal Reserve tried to calm nerves by cutting interest rates to zero. (Shutterstock)
Highlights
G7 leaders hold crisis talks to avert economic freefall.

Oil and share prices plunged on Monday in another market meltdown in the face of a triple challenge from increased oil output, falling demand, and the coronavirus pandemic.

Brent crude, the Middle East benchmark, dipped below the psychologically significant $30 per barrel soon after trading opened in New York. As US markets closed, it stood at $29.67, down more than 15 percent.

Trading had begun on Wall Street after a weekend when the US Federal Reserve tried to calm nerves by cutting interest rates to zero. 

But any optimism was short-lived as the S&P index of the 500 leading stocks fell so quickly it triggered “circuit breakers” designed to ease panic selling. It still ended the day down more than 10 percent, wiping out all the gains made since last May.

Markets in Europe also fell, with bourses in France and Germany about 10 percent down, and London 7 percent. Shares in airlines and banks came under particular pressure.

In the Middle East, the three biggest stock markets — in Saudi Arabia, Dubai and Abu Dhabi — all fell by more than 5 percent as governments dampened down economic activity to restrict the spread of the virus.

BACKGROUND

In the Middle East, the three biggest stock markets — in Saudi Arabia, Dubai and Abu Dhabi — all fell by more than 5 percent.

With market sell-offs triggered by mass quarantines and travel restrictions, governments in the world’s wealthiest countries are under pressure to show they can control the situation.

Leaders of the G7 industrial powerhouses held a videoconference on Monday and pledged to join forces to prevent economic freefall. They instructed their finance ministers to consult weekly to implement policy measures and “develop further timely and effective actions.”

Meanwhile, Saudi Aramco, the world’s biggest oil company, is accelerating plans to pump more oil. “We have lower costs than any other company. We can sustain a low oil price,” chief executive Amin Nasser said in a conference call to investors.

He said the Kingdom could reach 12.3 million barrels a day capacity by the end of the year, with a view to eventual maximum capacity of 13 million.

“There has been a dizzying drop in world oil demand and a dramatic pivot in Saudi oil production policy,” said Jim Burkhard, vice president of oil experts IHS Markit. “If this persists amid a recession, it points to the possible buildup of the most extreme oil supply surplus ever recorded.” 


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