Oil falls for fifth day as coronavirus spreads outside of China

TOKYO (Reuters) – Oil prices fell for a fifth day on Thursday to their lowest since January 2019 as a growing number of new coronavirus cases outside of China deepened fears that the global economy will slow and lower crude demand.

Brent crude () was down 77 cents, or 1.4% at $52.66 a barrel at 0204 GMT. The contract earlier fell to its lowest since Jan. 4, 2019. West Texas Intermediate (WTI) futures () fell by 80 cents, or 1.6%, to $47.93 a barrel. The contract earlier fell to its lowest since Jan. 2, 2019.

Brent prices have dropped 11% in the past five trading sessions through Thursday, the biggest five-day percentage loss since August 2019. WTI has declined 10.8% over the same period, also the biggest five-day percentage drop since August 2019.

On Wednesday, the number of new coronavirus infections outside China exceeded the number reported in China, the source of the outbreak, for the first time ever. Italy and Iran are emerging as new epicentres of the rapidly spreading illness.

President Donald Trump assured Americans on Wednesday evening that the risk from coronavirus remained “very low”. However, Asian share markets fell on Thursday morning, as investors fear the coronavirus spread will disrupt the global economy as quarantines and other measures to halt its advance slow trade and industry.

“Speculations that coronavirus may spread in the United States prompted a series of fresh selling,” said Kazuhiko Saito, chief analyst at Fujitomi Co.

If an outbreak “continues to worsen in the United States, oil prices will likely decline further, especially with U.S. gasoline prices already plunging,” Saito said.

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The U.S. government reported a drop in gasoline inventories last week, but U.S. gasoline prices () have taken a dive since late last week due to concerns over slowing demand, Saito said.

Gasoline stockpiles dropped by 2.7 million barrels in the week to Feb. 21 to 256.4 million, the Energy Information Administration (EIA) said on Wednesday, amid a decline in refinery throughput. Distillate inventories fell by 2.1 million barrels to 138.5 million.

U.S. crude oil stockpiles increased by 452,000 barrels to 443.3 million barrels, the EIA said, whic was less than the 2-million-barrel rise analysts had expected.

The crude market was also watching for possible deeper output cuts by the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) and its allies including Russia, a group known as OPEC+.

OPEC+ plans to meet in Vienna over March 5-6.

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