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Global Markets Are Rocked as Battle Over Crude Sends Oil Prices Plunging

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03/09/2020 | 03:23am EDT

By David Winning and Xie Yu

Oil plunged more than 25%, 10-year Treasury yields dipped below 0.4%, stocks dropped, and currencies swung as the prospect of an energy glut ratcheted up turmoil across markets world-wide.

Investors are responding to Saudi Arabia's decision over the weekend to cut most of its oil prices and boost output, despite existing threats to demand from the coronavirus epidemic. The move escalates a clash with another major oil producer, Russia.

"The fear today is about a global recession," said Thomas Hayes, chairman of Great Hill Capital, a hedge fund-management firm based in New York. He said lower oil prices make it more likely some companies would default on their debts.

"If Russia does not come back to the table soon, investors worry the default risk and credit spreads widening will lead to tighter credit and even a recession," Mr. Hayes said.

Trading in futures tied to the S&P 500 fell by the maximum 5% allowed in a single session. This meant trading was limited for the first time since shortly after President Trump's 2016 election victory. By early afternoon in Hong Kong on Monday, S&P 500 e-Mini contracts were 4.9% lower at 2,819.00, about 16.8% below a recent high registered on Feb. 19.

U.S. government bonds, which have already rallied to unprecedented highs, extended gains. The yield on the 10-year Treasury tumbled to 0.387%. Yields move inversely to prices. In Europe the pan-continental Stoxx Europe 600 index dropped 2.8% with France's CAC 40 benchmark dropping 2.7% and the UK's FTSE100 off 1.7%.

In the Asia-Pacific region, the S&P/ASX 200 index in Australia dropped 7.3%, suffering its worst day since October 2008, during the depths of the global financial crisis. The Australian dollar, which is sensitive to shifts in demands for commodities, fell more than 1%, with one Australian dollar buying 65.35 U.S. cents.

Japan's Nikkei 225 declined 5.1%, its biggest daily drop since 2016. The yen, which often rallies in times of market stress, surged to trade below 103 to the dollar, at its strongest levels since 2016.

Benchmark stock indexes in Hong Kong and Shanghai dropped more than 4% and 2%, respectively. China's onshore markets, in Shanghai and Shenzhen, have been comparatively resilient in recent weeks.

Saudi Arabian state oil giant Aramco said in a notice to buyers sent Saturday that it was cutting most of its prices, while preparing to boost crude output. Oil prices dropped after the market reopened Sunday evening in New York. Brent crude, the global gauge of oil prices, fell about 27.5% to $32.84 a barrel, and U.S. crude futures fell by a similar amount.

Last week, Saudi Arabia was unable to persuade Russia to join its plan for deeper crude production cuts at a gathering of the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries and its allies in Vienna. The failure signaled the end of a four-year collaboration between OPEC's member nations and 10 nonmembers led by Russia.

"The collapse of the talk between Russia and OPEC crushed investors' confidence," said Alvin Ngan, a strategist with Zhongtai International Holdings in Hong Kong, adding that sentiment was already fragile given the uncertainties created by the novel coronavirus.

In Australia, large energy stocks plunged by double-digit percentages on fears of a prolonged period of low crude-oil prices. Shares in Woodside Petroleum Ltd. fell by 18% while mining giant BHP Group Ltd. dropped by 14%.

The ASX 200 has now fallen 19.6% since hitting an all-time high on Feb. 20, putting it close to bear-market territory, which is typically defined as a peak-to-trough decline of more than 20%. The Nikkei 225 has fallen more than 18% from its highest closing level this year.

Akane Otani in New York contributed to this article.

Write to David Winning at david.winning@wsj.com and Xie Yu at Yu.Xie@wsj.com


Corrections & Amplifications

This article was corrected at 06:42 a.m. ET because the original incorrectly gave the figure the Australian dollar fell as 0.6555 cents or 0.6535 cents. The Australian dollar fell during Monday's trading to about 65.35 U.S. cents.

Stocks mentioned in the article
ChangeLast1st jan.
ASX LIMITED -0.53% 77.09 End-of-day quote.-1.68%
AUSTRALIAN DOLLAR / CANADIAN DOLLAR (AUD/CAD) -0.41% 0.85709 Delayed Quote.-3.98%
AUSTRALIAN DOLLAR / JAPANESE YEN (AUD/JPY) -0.25% 65.099 Delayed Quote.-12.61%
AUSTRALIAN DOLLAR / NEW ZEALAND DOLLAR (AUD/NZD) -0.32% 1.02278 Delayed Quote.-1.71%
AUSTRALIAN DOLLAR / SWISS FRANC (AUD/CHF) -0.05% 0.58817 Delayed Quote.-12.72%
AUSTRALIAN DOLLAR / US DOLLAR (AUD/USD) -0.76% 0.60352 Delayed Quote.-12.17%
BHP GROUP -4.04% 28.98 End-of-day quote.-25.54%
BRITISH POUND / AUSTRALIAN DOLLAR (GBP/AUD) 0.89% 2.0508 Delayed Quote.6.12%
BRITISH POUND / JAPANESE YEN (GBP/JPY) 0.62% 133.513 Delayed Quote.-7.28%
CAC 40 0.33% 4220.96 Real-time Quote.-26.46%
CANADIAN DOLLAR / JAPANESE YEN (CAD/JPY) 0.18% 75.947 Delayed Quote.-8.92%
DJ INDUSTRIAL 0.35% 20998.4 Delayed Quote.-23.20%
EURO / AUSTRALIAN DOLLAR (EUR/AUD) -0.18% 1.79418 Delayed Quote.11.95%
EURO / JAPANESE YEN (EUR/JPY) -0.45% 116.805 Delayed Quote.-2.17%
JAPANESE YEN / SWISS FRANC (JPY/CHF) 0.23% 0.9034 Delayed Quote.-0.39%
LONDON BRENT OIL 16.20% 29.84 Delayed Quote.-65.55%
NASDAQ 100 0.31% 7506.096388 Delayed Quote.-10.53%
NASDAQ COMP. 0.00% 7358.338107 Delayed Quote.-14.18%
NEW ZEALAND DOLLAR / JAPANESE YEN (NZD/JPY) 0.09% 63.636 Delayed Quote.-11.11%
NIKKEI 225 -1.37% 17818.72 Real-time Quote.-20.04%
S&P 500 0.56% 2482.76 Delayed Quote.-20.00%
S&P/ASX 200 -1.98% 5154.3 Real-time Quote.-24.05%
SAUDI ARABIAN OIL COMPANY 0.67% 30.15 End-of-day quote.0.84%
STOXX EUROPE 600 0.42% 312.08 Delayed Quote.-23.03%
STOXX EUROPE 600 NR 0.44% 677.84 Delayed Quote.-22.57%
US DOLLAR / JAPANESE YEN (USD/JPY) 0.51% 107.859 Delayed Quote.-0.57%
US DOLLAR / RUSSIAN ROUBLE (USD/RUB) -1.47% 77.58182 Delayed Quote.28.43%
WOODSIDE PETROLEUM LTD 1.34% 18.21 End-of-day quote.-47.03%
WTI 17.00% 24.875 Delayed Quote.-66.58%
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