Oil falls 3% to new three-month lows as China virus cases surpass SARS total

NEW YORK (Reuters) – Oil prices fell 3% on Thursday to the lowest in three months on concerns over the potential economic impact of the coronavirus that continues to spread worldwide, while the market also considered the possibility of an early OPEC meeting.

FILE PHOTO: The sun sets behind an oil pump outside Saint-Fiacre, near Paris, France September 17, 2019. REUTERS/Christian Hartmann

Brent crude LCOc1 was down $1.78, or 3%, to $58.03 a barrel by 1:03 p.m. EST (1803 GMT). The global benchmark earlier dropped to $57.90, its lowest since Oct. 10.

U.S. crude CLc1 fell $1.49, or 2.8%, to $51.84 a barrel, after hitting a session low at $51.66 a barrel, also its weakest since Oct. 10.

Prices have steadied in recent days at three-month lows as investors tried to assess what economic damage the virus might inflict and its impact on demand for crude oil and its products.

“The market wants to look beyond this but it needs to get a real sense as to whether they can get the coronavirus contained,” Phil Flynn, an analyst at Price Futures Group in Chicago, said in a note.

A World Health Organization (WHO) panel of experts met on Thursday to reconsider whether China’s fast-spreading coronavirus outbreak that has now killed 170 people should be declared a global emergency.

The number of infections in a health crisis that is forecast to sharply dent China’s economy, the world’s second-largest, has already surpassed the total in the 2002-2003 Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) epidemic.

The WHO held off twice last week from declaring a global emergency, but was meeting again in Geneva amid growing evidence of the coronavirus’ spread outside China. The outcome was expected to be announced around 1830 GMT.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said on Thursday there were six cases of coronavirus in the United States.

Countries have started isolating hundreds of citizens evacuated from the Chinese city of Wuhan on Thursday to stop the spread of an epidemic that has killed 170 people.

The rising death toll from the virus and its spread have sent stocks around the world tumbling. The virus has left policymakers, still grappling with the impact of the Sino-U.S. trade war, fretting over the widening fallout.

Saudi Arabia has opened a discussion about moving the upcoming OPEC+ policy meeting to early February from March, four OPEC+ sources said, after the recent slide in oil prices.

No final decision over the new date of the meeting has been made, and not all OPEC members are on board yet, with Iran a possible contender to oppose the move, the OPEC+ sources said.

“The only thing that can change the current trend is an emergency OPEC meeting,” said Olivier Jakob of consultancy Petromatrix.

(Graphic: U.S. petroleum inventories, here)

Additional reporting by Aaron Sheldrick in London; Editing by Jan Harvey; Editing by Marguerita Choy and David Evans

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