U.S. crude oil prices spiked by 25% on March 19, the largest single-day gain on record, recouping some losses from three days of selling that drove the benchmark to near 20-year lows.
Analysts saw the rebound as a brief reprieve, anticipating additional weakness as the coronavirus outbreak takes its toll on global demand. U.S. crude and global benchmark Brent have both lost half their value in less than two weeks, most of that since March 6, the day talks between OPEC and allies including Russia broke down.
The coronavirus outbreak has put pressure on the market as schools and businesses have shuttered, suppressing economic activity around the globe. At the same time, the price war between Saudi Arabia and Russia is flooding markets worldwide with cheap oil.
Oil extended gains late in the day after U.S. President Donald Trump said March 19 he would get involved in the dispute between Saudi Arabia and Russia "at the appropriate time."
WTI crude settled up $4.85, or 24%, to $25.22 after dropping nearly 25% to an 18-year low in the previous session. It then briefly extended gains in post-close trading to as much as 35%.
Brent crude settled up $3.59, or 14.4%, at $28.47 a barrel, having plunged to $24.52 on March 18, its lowest since 2003.
"After yesterday's drubbing, people are coming into the market, because they see some production cuts ahead, but those are not enough to offset the demand in decline that the market is going to see in April and May," said Andrew Lipow, president of Lipow Oil Associates.
In a sign of expectations for reduced demand, Colonial Pipeline Co., which operates the largest refined products pipeline system in the United States, said it was cutting volumes by 20%. That system brings gasoline, diesel and other fuels to the U.S. East Coast from refineries in the U.S. Gulf.
Oil's respite came as investors across financial markets assessed the impact of massive central bank stimulus measures. U.S. lawmakers were rushing on March 19 to forge a massive economic stimulus package to counter the impact of the outbreak.
Central banks have moved to mitigate the spiraling economic and financial fallout from the pandemic, with the European Central Bank kicking off a 750 billion euro (US$820 billion) emergency bond purchase scheme.
Following the breakdown of talks between Saudi Arabia and Russia, the de facto leader of OPEC announced plans to increase supply to a record 12.3 million barrels per day (bbl/d) and cut the official selling price for its oil by several dollars per barrel.
In the U.S., where dozens of shale oil and gas drillers and services companies risk bankruptcy, senators on March 18 urged the two countries to halt their price war during talks with the kingdom's envoy to Washington.
Trump noted, however, that low gasoline prices were good for U.S. consumers even as they were hurting the industry. "At the appropriate time I'll get involved," he said.
The drop in demand, particularly in transportation, is also leading to a rapidly growing glut in refined products such as jet fuel and gasoline.
"From April 1, about 4 million bbl/d could flood the markets, potentially pushing down crude oil prices into the teens," Jefferies analysts said in a note.
An estimated 31 hydraulic fracturing fleets, or 11% of those currently operating, were turned off in the last week, according to data from consultancy Primary Vision.
March 2020: Phantom Field-Wolfcamp Discovery By EOG: 8.318 Mbbl Of Oil, 14.702 MMcf Of Gas Per Day
Recovering more for less is the ultimate goal for operators and service companies.