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Oil Prices Tumble as Chinese Economy Stumbles

By Jody

Oil plummeted below $30 a barrel on Tuesday for the first time since December 2003. The latest wave of selling leaves crude oil down 19% this year alone. It represents an incredible 72% plunge from crude oil's June 2014 peak of almost $108.

The fall extends a relentless selloff that has wiped almost 20 percent off prices this year amid deepening concerns about fragile Chinese demand and the absence of output restraint.

"The fundamental situation for oil markets is much worse than previously thought," Barclays commodities analysts wrote in a client note.

Crude oil declined 3% on the day to settle at $30.44 a barrel, marking its seventh day in a row of losses.

The day's near 4 percent drop marks a seventh day of losses for oil. Traders have all but given up attempting to predict where the new-year rout will end, with momentum-driven dealing and overwhelmingly bearish sentiment engulfing the market. Some analysts warned of $20 a barrel; Standard Chartered said fund selling may not relent until it reaches $10.

By Tuesday, the crash had become almost self-fulfilling, with speculators too afraid to buy for fear of being burned by another false bottom.

U.S. West Texas Intermediate crude(WTI) fell 97 cents to settle at $30.44 a barrel, a 3.1 percent loss, after touching a low of $29.93. That was the lowest level since December 2003.

All of this is great news for American drivers. The average price of a gallon of gasoline fell below $1.97 this week, compared with $3.68 about 18 months ago, according to AAA.

Here's why crude oil prices keep crashing lower:

OPEC in complete disarray: Oil prices initially rallied on Tuesday after Nigeria's top oil official and the outgoing OPEC President Emmanuel Kachikwu told CNN the oil cartel is considering an emergency meeting. That fueled hopes of an output cut that countries like Nigeria have been begging OPEC leader Saudi Arabia for.

However, officials from the United Arab Emirates quickly moved to downplay those hopes, saying the current strategy is working.

The public back-and-forth between OPEC members highlights the deep fractures within OPEC that have diminished the already-low chances of the cartel cutting output.

The recent outbreak of tensions between Saudi Arabia and Iran did much of the same last week, helping to drive oil prices even lower.

Barclays calls all of this the "complete breakdown of OPEC cohesion."

China is spooking everyone: Worries about China's economy aren't just bad for the stock market.

If China is truly slowing more than investors realized, that would mean it needs less oil to fuel its economy. That's a scary thought for those who were hoping oil would soon be on the upswing.

"Just in the past week, strong fears of a hard landing in China have reemerged with a vengeance," Michael Wittner, global head of oil research at Societe Generale, wrote in a research report.

Defiant U.S. oil production: While demand fears are on the rise, the oil crash has mostly been fueled by a massive supply glut. That excess supply was largely created by the American shale oil boom.

U.S. oil production has not taken nearly the hit that many thought it would. The U.S. pumped an average of 9.35 million barrels per day in October, down just a bit from the April peak of 9.7 million, according to the government.

That hurts oil prices because American production likely needs to come down to ease the supply glut.

"The market has lost confidence that U.S. shale will decline quickly enough to perform its job this year of beginning the global rebalancing process," Wittner said.

Iran is gearing up: The global oil market is bracing for Iran to deepen the supply glut by pumping lots more oil very soon.

Iran is making progress in meeting its obligations to receive sanctions relief under its nuclear deal with the West. That potentially clears the way for Iran to return later this month or in February.

It's a big mystery just how much oil Iran will be able to pump, but it's unlikely the country will back down despite the price crash. Even just a gradual increase in output can't help the oversupply problem.

U.S. dollar strength a risk: Crude oil trades in U.S. dollars. That means when the dollar gets stronger, oil gets more expensive for overseas buyers.

Morgan Stanley warned on Monday that the strong greenback could send oil plunging to $20 a barrel.

While cheap oil is great for American consumers, it continues to contribute to the losses in the stock market. Shares of S&P 500 energy companies are already down 10% so far this year, while some like Marathon Oil (MRO) and Anadarko Petroleum (AEUA) have plunged over 20%.

The $30 mark is both a psychological and financial threshold. In recent days, traders have poured money into $30 put options for expiration in February and March. Hedging activity usually picks up as oil prices near big a options level, as buyers and sellers defend their interests. More than 15,000 contracts traded on Tuesday and 18,000 contracts traded on Monday for the February contract, more than doubling Friday's volumes.

"The momentum is too strong to the bearish side, even if fundamentally nothing has changed," said Dominick Chirichella, a senior partner at Energy Management Institute.

With prices now below break-even costs for many producers, particularly in the once-thriving U.S. shale patch, and the costly Canadian oil sands producers barely making $15 a barrel, an extended slump has caused financial pain to flare across the world, threatening corporate bankruptcies and fiscal strain.

Benchmark Brent crude had dropped 97 cents to $30.58 a barrel, for a 3.1 percent loss, after hitting a low of $30.34.

The day's near 4 percent drop marks a seventh day of losses for oil. Traders have all but given up attempting to predict where the new-year rout will end, with momentum-driven dealing and overwhelmingly bearish sentiment engulfing the market. Some analysts warned of $20 a barrel; Standard Chartered said fund selling may not relent until it reaches $10.

By Tuesday, the crash had become almost self-fulfilling, with speculators too afraid to buy for fear of being burned by another false bottom.

BP Plans to Cut Around 4,000 Jobs Amid Oil Price Plunge

U.S. West Texas Intermediate crude(WTI) fell 97 cents to settle at $30.44 a barrel, a 3.1 percent loss, after touching a low of $29.93. That was the lowest level since December 2003.

The $30 mark is both a psychological and financial threshold. In recent days, traders have poured money into $30 put options for expiration in February and March. Hedging activity usually picks up as oil prices near big a options level, as buyers and sellers defend their interests. More than 15,000 contracts traded on Tuesday and 18,000 contracts traded on Monday for the February contract, more than doubling Friday's volumes.

"The momentum is too strong to the bearish side, even if fundamentally nothing has changed," said Dominick Chirichella, a senior partner at Energy Management Institute.

With prices now below break-even costs for many producers, particularly in the once-thriving U.S. shale patch, and the costly Canadian oil sands producers barely making $15 a barrel, an extended slump has caused financial pain to flare across the world, threatening corporate bankruptcies and fiscal strain.

Benchmark Brent crude had dropped 97 cents to $30.58 a barrel, for a 3.1 percent loss, after hitting a low of $30.34.

Prices firmed early in the day after a deadly suicide bombing rocked central Istanbul, and Nigeria's oil minister said a "couple" of Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries members had requested an emergency meeting.

But they then nosedived anew after the United Arab Emirates oil minister quashed talk of a possible meeting, saying the group strategy was working. OPEC has rejected calls by some of its members to curb output, opting instead to pump full throttle to defend market share rather than shore up prices.

Oil has tumbled more than 18 percent this year alone, the worst seven-day run since the financial crisis. The long list of negative factors also includes the weakening economy and ailing stock market of No. 2 consumer China, the rising U.S. dollar, which makes oil more costly, and the surprising resilience of U.S. shale drillers in the face of the price slide.

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oil prices tumble, oil prices tumble,OPEC crumbles, OPEC crumbles,iranian oil, iranian oil,canadian economy, canadian economy,strong dollar, strong dollar,chinese economy, chinese economy,weak manufacturin, weak manufacturin,, ,

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