Oil price crests $41 on vaccine-fueled market rally

By Alex Longley on 11/9/2020

(Bloomberg) --Oil jumped by the most since May as news of a potential Covid-19 vaccine breakthrough injected fresh hope that an end is in sight to the worst demand slump in decades.

Futures spiked as much as 11% in New York alongside a broader market rally, before paring gains. Various indicators of oil-market strength firmed following news that a vaccine being developed by Pfizer Inc. and BioNTech SE prevented more than 90% of symptomatic infections in a large-scale study. While coronavirus cases continue to surge globally, the prospect of a widely distributed Covid-19 vaccine could jumpstart the fragile rebound in consumption.

“This changes everything on the demand side,” said Stewart Glickman, energy equity analyst at CFRA Research. “Assuming it can be produced commercially, it makes it very viable for people to take more risks knowing they have a vaccine.”

While a vaccine would be a big step towards oil’s recovery, the market remains precarious since the pandemic cratered demand, raising the specter of permanent change to the way energy is consumed in some areas of the economy. Refining margins, which can indicate how well demand is coming back, remain at their lowest seasonally since 2010.

Monday’s price jump was magnified by short-sellers who were forced to close their positions in a rush, triggering a buying spree that exaggerated the impact of the vaccine news. The price movement was particularly significant for so-called timespreads, where traders bet on the price of oil at different points on the calendar. In the options market, bets on the WTI curve flipping to backwardation -- when nearer-dated contracts trade at a premium to later-dated ones -- indicate underlying expectations for improving demand.

“At a minimum, what today’s news has done is put a floor into the oil market, pushing short sellers away,” said Michael Tran, a commodity strategist at RBC Capital Markets LLC. “This is a significant step in the right direction, but there’s still headwinds at play ... the duration between now and when demand actually returns is still an open-ended question.”

Prices:

  • West Texas Intermediate for December delivery jumped $3.32 to $40.46 a barrel as of 12:16 p.m. in New York
  • Brent for January settlement rose $3.19 to $42.64 a barrel

Energy stocks also rallied in response to the jump in the oil price. The Standard and Poor’s 500 Energy Index surged as much as 15%, the biggest intraday gain since March. Oil refiners Valero Energy Corp. and Hollyfrontier Corp. rose more than 20%.

Prices had earlier rallied as Joe Biden declared victory in the U.S. presidential election and began preparations to navigate America’s pandemic-hit economy out of crisis, with potential shifts coming on a range of policies from fiscal stimulus to Iranian sanctions. At the same time, Saudi Arabia said that OPEC+ could extend oil cuts through 2022 as the group seeks to re-balance the glutted market.

A vaccine “would be the most meaningful type of mitigator to the situation,” Saudi Energy Minister Prince Abdulaziz Bin Salman said prior to the Pfizer announcement at a conference on Monday. “We’re still hopeful that vaccine is found and that vaccine or vaccines spread and hopefully mobility would be regained.”

Other oil-market news:

  • Oman is seeking to raise money off the back of its largest oil block, as the cash-strapped Gulf nation looks for new ways to tame its budget deficit and steady a reeling economy.
  • Commodities trader Trafigura Group is hiring Temasek Holdings Pte executive Khodor Mattar, as it seeks to team up with the world’s biggest private equity firms and sovereign funds for investments, people familiar with the matter said.
  • Russian Energy Minister Alexander Novak is set to be promoted to deputy prime minister amid a government reshuffle, while retaining his role as the oil-rich nation’s OPEC+ negotiator.
  • The head of oil trader Mercuria Energy Group Ltd. said news of progress for a coronavirus vaccine came as investors had built significant short positions, prompting crude to rally the most since May.

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