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Oil below US$60 as earnings season opens

Oil prices sank below US$60 a barrel yesterday, ending a week in which crude has fallen more than 10 percent on growing pessimism about the economy and also the well-being of companies about to report second-quarter earnings.

Benchmark crude for August delivery fell 52 cents to settle at US$59.89 a barrel on the New York Mercantile Exchange, but at one pointed traded as low as US$58.72.

The International Energy Agency said Friday it expects energy demand to drop 2.9 percent this year.

The Paris-based IEA said economic recovery in developing countries will help counter the effects of the recession in the West and Japan. It expects demand to rise by 1.7 percent in 2010.

Corporate earnings that will be released over the next several weeks will be a good indicator of how well the global economy has fared this year and whether energy use could diminish further.

After falling close to US$30 per barrel, crude prices had been rising steadily and peaked last week above US$73. But dismal jobs numbers suggested energy use will be muted for some time, and prices have tumbled 19 percent since then.

"All the focus is on demand," said Christoffer Moltke-Leth, head of sales trading for Saxo Capital Markets. "The second-quarter earnings season is going to be very important for crude. If we see disappointments there, people will say, 'We've gone too far, too fast.'"

Aluminum maker Alcoa Inc. started off earnings season on Thursday by reporting a narrower-than-expected loss. Aluminum is a key ingredient in the construction market, and increased activity in that sector is one gauge of economic health, and by extension, demand for oil.

Next come reports from major well known brands like Colgate Palmolive, PepsiCo, and Johnson & Johnson.

"These companies have a good feel for how demand is around the world," Moltke-Leth said. "What they say is going to be important for the near-term outlook for oil."

If retail sales of household items are falling, it is likely that crude and gasoline sales will continue to fall. Americans, who consume more gasoline than anyone else, have slashed their driving and gasoline prices have followed.

In other Nymex trading, gasoline for August delivery fell about a penny to settle at US$1.6505 a gallon and heating oil for August delivery fell less than a penny to settle at US$1.5335. Natural gas for August delivery slipped 3.5 cents to settle at US$3.373 per 1,000 cubic feet.

In London, Brent prices fell 58 cents to settle at US$60.52 a barrel on the ICE Futures exchange.


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