Oil prices plunge on China lockdowns; stocks diverge


Posted at Mar 16 2022 05:34 AM

A customer fills his tank at a petrol station in London, February 24 2011. Andy Rain, EPA
A customer fills his tank at a petrol station in London, February 24 2011. Andy Rain, EPA

Oil prices plunged on Tuesday as China, a major energy consumer, placed nearly 30 million people under COVID lockdown, and Hong Kong and Chinese mainland stock markets dove, while Wall Street stocks rallied.

Brent oil futures finished under $100 a barrel for the first time in nearly 3 weeks, reflecting worries about the prospects for the world's second largest economy as it confronts the latest COVID-19 surge.

"We have good news and we have bad news," said Briefing.com analyst Patrick O'Hare.

"The good news is that oil prices are down sharply . . . The bad news is that the big drop in oil prices is due to growth concerns which, by extension, don't bode well for earnings growth prospects," O'Hare said.

China reported 5,280 new COVID-19 cases on Tuesday, more than double the previous day's tally, as the highly transmissible omicron variant spread across a country that has stuck tightly to a zero-COVID strategy.

Rystad Energy analyst Louise Dickson said severe Chinese restrictions could put 500,000 barrels a day of oil at risk. 

"China oil demand risk is real," Dickson said, adding that a strengthening dollar also pressures crude prices since oil is traded in dollars.

The Federal Reserve is expected to take the first step in a series of interest rate increases on Wednesday, which could push the dollar higher.

Rystad cautioned that the drop in oil prices may be "short lived" given the tight state of global crude inventories and ongoing uncertainty surrounding Russian crude.

Among the hardest-hit markets has been Hong Kong, which already was under pressure from China's regulatory crackdown on technology firms as part of the government's move to tighten its grip on the economy.

Traders also are worried Chinese companies could face Western sanctions, as the United States and its European allies pressure Beijing to pull its lifeline from an isolated Russia following the invasion of Ukraine.

- 'Big sigh of relief' -

On Wall Street, stocks opened in positive territory and picked up momentum throughout the session as the drop in oil prices proved unwavering.

"The market is breathing a big sigh of relief that commodities prices -- mainly food and energy, oil and grains prices -- are coming down," Adam Sarhan of 50 Park Investments, told AFP.

"At the same time, you have bargain hunters showing up," Sarhan said. "We are oversold and the market is due for a nice rally."

All three major indices posted solid gains, with the S&P 500 winning 2.1 percent. 

The gains come ahead of Wednesday's closely-watched Fed meeting, which is expected to raise the benchmark lending rate a quarter point as it moves to contain accelerating inflation.


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- Key figures around 21:30 GMT -

  • West Texas Intermediate: DOWN 6.4 percent at $96.44 per barrel
  • Brent North Sea crude: DOWN 6.5 percent at $99.91 per barrel
  • New York - DOW: UP 1.8 percent at 33,544.34 (close)
  • New York - S&P 500: UP 2.1 percent at 4,262.45 (close)
  • New York - Nasdaq: UP 2.9 percent at 12,948.62 (close) 
  • London - FTSE 100: DOWN 0.3 percent at 7,175.70 (close)
  • Frankfurt - DAX: DOWN 0.1 percent at 13,917.27 (close)
  • Paris - CAC 40: DOWN 0.2 percent at 6,355.00 (close)
  • EURO STOXX 50: DOWN 0.1 percent at 3,738.11 (close)
  • Hong Kong - Hang Seng Index: DOWN 5.7 percent at 18,415.08 (close)
  • Tokyo - Nikkei 225: UP 0.2 percent at 25,346.48 (close)
  • Shanghai - Composite: DOWN 5.0 percent at 3,063.97 (close)
  • Euro/dollar: DOWN at $1.0951 from $1.0940 late Monday
  • Pound/dollar: UP at $1.3036 from $1.3002
  • Euro/pound: DOWN at 83.92 pence from 84.14 pence
  • Dollar/yen: UP at 118.33 yen from 118.19 yen