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Oil Price falls below $50

Oil price falls below $50 as U.S. supplies hit record

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The price of U.S. crude oil has dipped below $50 for the first time since December as a global supply glut persists despite production cuts by big exporters.

In November, the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries and other oil-producing nations agreed to lower their output for much of 2017 to rein in chronic oversupply and to boost prices. But drilling and stockpiles of oil have continued to rise, particularly in the U.S.

West Texas Intermediate (WTI) oil, the U.S. benchmark, fell $1.23 a barrel to $49.05 on Thursday, and is down 9% in March.

Brent crude oil, the benchmark for international oils, declined 54 cents a barrel to $52.57.

U.S. commercial crude supplies have risen for nine straight weeks, reaching a record 528.4 million barrels last week, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration. That was an increase of 8.2 million barrels from a week earlier.

“The rising crude inventory levels in the US to new all-time highs has been the No. 1 reason why prices have been unable to move further higher,” Fawad Razaqzada, market analyst at Forex.com, wrote to investors Wednesday.

The effects of lower oil prices have reverberated through the economy. Prices at the gas pump have fallen since early January, putting more money into drivers’ pockets. The average U.S.gas price peaked this year at $2.38 on Jan. 8, but has since fallen to $2.30, according to GasBuddy.com.

As the weather warms up and more Americans hit the road for spring break and summer, prices typically rise about 60 cents a gallon from mid-February to June 1, says Patrick DeHaan, senior petroleum analyst at GasBuddy. “This year, if (the oil price) drop sticks around, we could see far less of a rally. It could be even half of that,” he said.

That same drop, however, has caused pain in other areas. Shares of oil companies have sagged in recent weeks as analysts’ cut their earnings predictions for the industry. The S&P 500 Energy Index is down 8.5% for the year. ExxonMobil’s stock opened at a 52-week low Thursday, though it rebounded later and finished up 0.8% for the day.

So far, any signs that domestic stockpiles and production could wane have been faint. The Trump administration has been vocal about its desire to remove regulations that hinder U.S. production. And that “could see a surge of domestic crude driving down prices even further,” said Alfonso Esparza, market analyst at brokerage firm OANDA.

U.S. oil output is expected to increase to an average of 9.7 million barrels per day in 2018, with more production in the Permian shale region of Texas and New Mexico, as well as the Gulf of Mexico, expected, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration.

“U.S. crude oil production is now expected to reach an all-time high in 2018,” Howard Gruenspecht, acting administrator of the E.I.A., wrote in the agency’s March 2017 Short-Term Energy Outlook. “Rising crude oil production from non-OPEC countries, especially from the United States, is expected to curb upward pressure on oil prices for much of 2017.”

Despite the sell-off Thursday, Razaqzada, the analyst at Forex.com, said he expected oil prices to rebound to the $60 to $70 range by the end of the year.

Demand typically rises in the summer, and some analysts expect the effects of OPEC-led supply cuts, which went into effect Jan. 1, to become more noticeable later this year.

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