HOUSTON: Oil prices slipped 1 percent on the final day of the year, en route for their first annual drop in three years as fears of a slowing global economy and emerging supply glut outweighed impending production cuts from OPEC nations.
Both oil benchmarks are down more than a third this quarter, the steepest decline since the fourth quarter of 2014. For the year, U.S. crude has lost more than 25 percent, while Brent is off by more than 21 percent.
A tweet by U.S. President Donald Trump claiming progress on a possible U.S.-China trade deal pushed crude prices up more than 2 percent in early trading on Monday. But oil lost ground as traders focused to data showing sluggish Chinese manufacturing activity in December, analysts said.
“That's raising concerns about demand growth," said Phil Flynn, an oil markets analyst at Price Futures Group in Chicago. “Everybody is convinced the trade war is going to slow down global economic growth and demand for oil."
Brent crude futures were down 25 cents at $52.96 a barrel by 11:02 a.m. EST but had risen to a high of $54.82 in earlier trade.
U.S. West Texas Intermediate (WTI) crude futures were 33 cents lower at $44.99 a barrel. In earlier trade, WTI was up at $46.53 a barrel.
Analysts are bearish on 2019, according to a Reuters poll released on Monday. A survey of 32 economists and analysts forecast an average Brent price of $69.13 a barrel next year, compared with $71.76 in 2018.
Prices rose through most of the year, continuing 2017's recovery after several years of weak pricing that sent oil-rich economies into tailspins and forced hundreds of U.S. energy companies into bankruptcy. Renewed U.S. sanctions against major producer Iran, as well as healthy economic growth and concerns about crude supplies, had elevated crude for most of the year.
But trading on Monday echoed a theme that came to pervade the last few months of 2018: Fears over declining global trade, rising interest rate and sluggish economic growth clouded markets despite the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries' (OPEC) pairing with Russia and other producers to slash output and support prices.
“It just doesn't matter when the stock market is getting dinged 500 points a day," said John Saucer, vice president of research and analysis at Mobius Risk Group in Houston. “OPEC got overshadowed by the Fed and the performance of the equity markets."
Brent prices have wiped out all of 2018's gains, plunging by almost 40 percent from the year's high, in what has been one of the steepest oil market sell-offs of the past decades.
Global benchmark Brent crude rose by almost a third between January and October, to a high of $86.74 per barrel. That was the highest level since late 2014, the start of a deep market slump amid bulging global oversupply.
U.S. crude production reached a fresh all-time high of more than 11.5 million barrels per day (bpd) in October, up by 79,000 bpd, the U.S. Energy Information Administration said on Monday.
Prices could stagnate for weeks until OPEC's planned cuts of 1.2 million bpd begin to impact global supplies in mid-January and early February.
“Unless you see something change in the data, there's no reason to believe we're going to go above $47" anytime soon, said Bill Baruch, president of commodities brokerage Blue Line Futures in Chicago.