Oil prices spike: OPEC plans production cuts; uncertainty shakes stock markets.
As OPEC announces production cuts, a weak U.S. jobs report leaves investors worried
Oil prices spiked and stocks dove Friday as uncertainty roiled global markets.
The Dow Jones industrial average slid 559 points, or 2.2 percent, to 24,388 on a disappointing jobs report Friday morning that seemed to cement worries that an economic slowdown is ahead.
The Standard & Poor’s 500stock index was down 2.3 percent, and the Nasdaq Composite retreated 3 percent Friday, adding to a wild week when the major indexes fell 4.5 percent or more. Some, like the Nasdaq, have hit correction territory, or a decline of 10 percent from a 52-week high. The S&P 500 is close to that mark, with a 9.5 percent decline from its recent high.
“Uncertainty remains with us, and so does the volatility,” said Michael Farr, a Washington investment manager. “There is not any sort of a trade resolution with China. We aren’t further along than we were before the G-20 meeting. But we have the added uncertainty of the president’s communication style.”
The technology and financial sectors were among those that were hurt the most. Chip stocks were shellacked for their worst week since March. Apple dropped an additional 3.4 percent in afternoon trading. The iPhone-maker was in retreat for the ninth of the past 10 weeks.
IBM, Intel and Microsoft were among the biggest drags on the Dow 30, each down more than 3 percent in afternoon trading.
Stock losses appeared to deepen about 11 a.m. Friday after Trump trade adviser Peter Navarro said the administration would consider raising tariffs on Chinese goods if trade issues were not resolved during the 90-day negotiating period.
The technology sector, which has powered the last years of the bull market, is taking much of the beating, in part because tech companies tend to rely heavily on overseas markets, including China, to sell their products.
The sector finished down 5.07 percent for the week, off 14.14 percent from the Sept. 20 high, according to Howard Silverblatt, a senior analyst with S&P Dow Jones Indices. Tech is still up 2.12 percent this year and up 41.3 percent since the 2016 election.
Kristina Hooper, global market strategist for Invesco, said a confluence of events pushed stocks lower Friday.
She singled out the labor report that found November job gains of 155,000 vs. the 198,000 that were expected. But wage growth continued to show year-over-year increases of more than 3 percent.
“The economy may be slowing and inflationary pressures may be building, which in turn means the Fed may have less flexibility to take its foot off the accelerator,” Hooper said.
If the Federal Reserve continues to raise interest rates, it could slow the economy, send it into recession and tank the market.
The jobless rate held at 3.7 percent last month, a 49-year low.
Oil prices reversed their weekslong decline Friday on an announcement by the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries to cut production by 1.2 million barrels per day.
“They struck an accord that will bring some balance back to the market,” oil analyst John Kilduff of Again Capital said. “The prices at the pump are going to stop going down as a result of this meeting.”
International benchmark Brent crude and West Texas Intermediate crude both rose on the news. Brent was selling around $61 and U.S. crude was selling for about $52 a barrel.
Experts consider $50 a key threshold because many producers cannot turn a profit if prices go much below that.
“Our guiding principle is balancing supply and demand,” Saudi Arabian Energy Minister Khalid Al-Falih said at a news conference in Vienna. “We don’t always get it right. But we always adjust to try to . . . keep the market within a reasonable corridor.”
Al-Falih called 1.2 million “the headline number,” with 800,000 barrels a day in cuts being borne by OPEC “and 400,000 from our colleagues in non-OPEC.”
The reductions are an attempt to stem the global oversupply that has driven oil prices down by 30 percent in two months. They come in the face of repeated jawboning by President Trump, who has urged the 15-member cartel and Saudia Arabia — OPEC’s de facto leader — not to cut production, which would keep prices relatively low.
The reduction was announced at a two-day meeting at OPEC headquarters in Vienna and is good news for producers. Anything short of 1 million barrels per day would have been disappointing for OPEC members.
“The deal came close to falling apart,” Kilduff said. “The amount is large enough that it should help ease the current oversupply. The continued growth in U.S. output and exports remains a problem for OPEC and Russia, however.”
The global oil terrain has changed dramatically. The United States, once written off as an exporter, is now the world’s biggest oil producer and is a net exporter of petroleum.
The next two Big Three oil producers, Russia and Saudi Arabia, have sought to keep production and demand in rough proximity to stabilize prices in the $70 to $80 price range. The sweet spot in oil prices is $80 a barrel, which allows producer profit without consumers revolting over being gouged.
Trump took to Twitter to weigh in: “Hopefully OPEC will be keeping oil flows as is, not restricted. The World does not want to see, or need, higher oil prices!”
Trump has repeatedly linked support for the Saudis — including backing for the war in Yemen and his refusal to blame Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman for the killing of journalist Jamal Khashoggi — to their cooperation in keeping oil prices low.
“Saudi Arabia, if we broke with them, I think your oil prices would go through the roof,” the president said last month, indicating he had an agreement with Riyadh not to cut production. “I’ve kept them down. They’ve helped me keep them down.”
“Right now we have oil prices in great shape,” Trump told reporters. “I’m not going to destroy the world economy, and I’m not going to destroy the economy for our country by being foolish with Saudi Arabia.”
World oil supply and demand are roughly 100 million barrels per day, with OPEC contributing more than a third of that. The result is a very tight sliver between global supply and demand. That means any increase in demand or decline in production in some corner of the world can send prices upward.
The surplus is largely attributed to a miscalculation between demand and output by major producers, including Iran. A strong dollar is also weighing on prices because it makes oil more expensive for much of the world. Oil prices tend to fall as a result.
Al-Falih said Saudi Arabia pumped 10.7 million barrels per day in October and 11.1 million in November. It is believed that the number will come down to 10.2 million starting in January.
The new number “is partly driven by our commitment to start on the right foot in 2019 and to demonstrate this agreement is not going to take a long, protracted period of gradually winding down,” Al-Falih said.
Pavel Molchanov, energy analyst at the investment firm Raymond James, said that “the key question is always implementation. How much compliance there will be? We will begin to see evidence of that early in the new year.”
“Even after today’s rebound, the price is 25 percent lower than two months ago,” he said. “There is room for oil prices to continue to bounce into the early months of the new year. However, a full recovery to where oil prices were two months ago is most likely to be in the second half of 2019.”
From left, Russia’s energy minister, the OPEC president and the OPEC secretary general at the oil cartel’s conference in Vienna.