Oil prices slipped below $32 a barrel Monday to a 12-year low. Slowing growth in China and the recent crash in Chinese markets are battering investors’ hopes for stronger crude oil demand this year.
West Texas Intermediate crude, the U.S. benchmark oil, fell to $31.96 a barrel -- the lowest level since Dec. 23, 2003 -- before dipping further to $31.79 by 11:58 a.m. EST. Brent crude, the global benchmark oil, dropped 5.34 percent to $31.76 a barrel before edging up to $31.90.
Analysts pointed to China’s economic woes as the main reason for the plunge in oil and commodity prices. China last week saw a slide in the yuan and two emergency trading suspensions in the stock markets amid signs of weaker growth.
Chinese markets had another turbulent start this week as blue chip stocks fell another 5 percent and overnight interest rates for the yuan outside China hit nearly 40 percent, Reuters reported.
“China has torpedoed the hopes of the optimist,” David Hufton of oil brokers PVM Oil Associates wrote in a note cited by Reuters. "If the first week is anything to go by we are in for a long, volatile and very exhausting year. ”
China is the world’s second-biggest oil consumer after the United States. Its slowdown is worsening fears about the growing glut of crude supplies, which now surpasses demand by around 2 million barrels a day, according to OPEC data.
OPEC nations, led by Saudi Arabia, have declined to curb production despite signs that global demand growth is weakening. The United States is similarly holding steady as shale producers find cheaper ways to produce the crude and others press stubbornly ahead.
Monday’s decline in oil prices adds to last week’s more than 10 percent drop in WTI and Brent futures. Oil prices have plummeted more than two-thirds from their peaks of above $100 a barrel in June 2014 as the gap widens between supply and demand.