Wall Street Drops as US Producers Can Not Give Crude Away

April 20, 2020 Updated: April 20, 2020

Wall Street tumbled on Monday after U.S. crude futures turned negative for the first time in history, underscoring the chaos the coronavirus outbreak has unleashed on the global economy.

The S&P energy index tumbled 3.7 percent after the front-month May U.S. West Texas Intermediate (WTI) contract turned negative—unprecedented in history—with sellers offering buyers $37.63 a barrel.

With much of the global economy suspended due to the coronavirus, physical demand for crude has dried up, creating a global supply glut as billions of people stay home.

“What the energy market is telling you is that demand isn’t coming back anytime soon, and there’s a supply glut,” said Kevin Flanagan, head of fixed income strategy at WisdomTree Asset Management in New York. “This price decline can be good if it means more people going to the pump, but that requires people getting out.”

Year to date, the energy index has lost 45 percent, by far the worst performer among 11 sectors.

Weathering the broad market sell-off, Amazon rose 0.8 percent and Netflix jumped 3.4 percent. Both of those companies have benefited from additional demand as millions of people stay home due to the coronavirus. Netflix reports its quarterly results on Tuesday after the bell.

A 3D-printed oil pump jack is seen in front of displayed stock graph and "$0 Barrel" words in this illustration picture
A 3D-printed oil pump jack is seen in front of a displayed stock graph and “$0 Barrel” words in this illustration picture, on April 20, 2020. (Dado Ruvic/Reuters)

Helped by a $2 trillion U.S. government package to stimulate the economy, and by bets that the virus was nearing a peak in the United States, the S&P 500 has climbed over 25 percent from its March low.

The benchmark index remains almost 17 percent below its February record high, and analysts have warned of a deep economic slump from the halt in business activity and millions of layoffs.

U.S. jobless claims touched 22 million in the four weeks to April 11, and analysts have forecast as many as 5 million more in the latest week. A reading of an April U.S. manufacturing survey, also due on Thursday, is expected to slide to recession-era levels.

The Dow Jones Industrial Average dropped 2.44 percent to end at 23,650.44 points, while the S&P 500 lost 1.79 percent to 2,823.16.

The Nasdaq Composite dropped 1.03 percent to 8,560.73.

Declining issues outnumbered advancing ones on the NYSE by a 2.99-to-1 ratio; on Nasdaq, a 1.62-to-1 ratio favored decliners.

The S&P 500 posted 10 new 52-week highs and no new lows; the Nasdaq Composite recorded 39 new highs and 20 new lows.

By Noel Randewich