Crude oil prices declined sharply on Thursday amid concerns over the outlook for energy demand after worries about the potential impact of the coronavirus outbreak on the global economy intensified.
The World Health Organization has declared the coronavirus a global health emergency. Earlier in the day, the U.S. confirmed its first human-to human transmission of the virus that has killed 171 people in China and has spread to as many as 18 other countries.
The virus has reportedly infected more than 8100 people so far, more than the 2003 SARS epidemic.
WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebryesus said in a press conference that the organization witnessed the emergence of a previously unknown pathogen that has resulted in an unprecedented outbreak and that it is time to act together to limit the spread.
West Texas Intermediate Crude oil futures for March ended down $1.19, or about 2.2%, at $52.14 a barrel, the lowest settlement since August 7.
Data released by the Energy Information Administration (EIA) on Wednesday that showed crude Oil inventories rose by 3.5 million barrels in the week ended Jan. 24, compared to expectations for a build of 482,000 barrels, contributed as well to the sharp decline in oil prices.
The EIA report also said gasoline inventories were up by 1.2 million barrels last week, slightly less than an expected increase. Distillates stocks were down 1.3 million barrels last week, more than an expected drop of about 1.1 million barrels.