WTI dropped below zero: what does it mean?

WTI dropped below zero: what does it mean?

Big news shake financial markets more and more often. This time oil is once again the biggest news maker. 

What happened with oil? 

West Texas oil futures expiring on Tuesday turned negative for the first time in history. Negative prices mean that sellers were actually paying buyers to take the stuff off their hands. Such a situation occured because the US economy is on the lockdown and, as a result, there’s so much unused oil that America is running out of places to store it. 

How it works? 

Crude oil futures is a futures contract, in which a seller agrees to transfer a specified amount of barrels of oil to a buyer at a specified price on a specific date. 

Some market players, such as refinery companies, use futures to ensure that they will have a favorable price fixed for the future. Most traders, however, trade oil futures without waiting until the expiry date. They don't want the actual oil, they just buy and sell oil futures to make money on the price swings. However, if they don’t get out of the position before the due date, they will have oil actually delivered to them.  

There are oil futures for every month for years ahead. Trading terminates 3 business day prior to the 25th calendar day of the month prior to the contract month. In April 2020, such day is Tuesday, April 21. Physical delivery for these contracts should take place in May, but as the storage capacities are near the limit, the demand has plunged. Storage is especially scarce in Cushing, Oklahoma, where WTI May-dated futures contracts require futures buyers to take delivery of the oil. Hence, market players just wanted to get rid of these futures. There was a wave of selling and the price of WTI-20K dropped below 0.

What does it mean for other contracts? 

Although, the futures market has experienced an impressive move, there's no way this is an apocalypse. We can see that other contracts haven’t collapsed at all. For instance, WTI June prices (WTI-20M) are above $20 a barrel. 


Prices for Brent futures fell, but the decline wasn’t dramatic at all and accounted for about 5% on Monday. Unlike WTI, Brent crude can be delivered offshore to a variety of locations, so if there’s a lack of storage in one place, oil will be just moved elsewhere. 

All in all, the story will likely keep oil under pressure for a time being. Notice that with FBS you can take advantage of various oil futures, both buying and selling these contracts in the form of CFD



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