Oil prices fell sharply on Thursday as the death toll rose to 170 in the new virus outbreak in China and a government report showed a bigger-than-expected increase in U.S. crude stocks.
Benchmark Brent crude fell as much as 1.75 percent to $57.89 a barrel, after having risen half a percent in the previous session. U.S. crude futures were down 1.6 percent at $52.47.
Investors remain concerned about the extent of the economic damage that the coronavirus may ultimately inflict, in China or around the world.
“There is likely to be some disruption to activity in China and globally,” Federal Reserve Chairman Jerome Powell said on Wednesday. “It’s very uncertain how far it will spread and what the (economic) effects will be in China, for its trading partners, and around the world.. We are very carefully monitoring the situation.”
Preliminary figures showed that China now has more cases of the coronavirus that it had of SARS.
With the death toll hitting 170 – representing a 38 percent increase in deaths in the past 24 hours, the World Health Organization (WHO) has called for an Emergency Committee meeting today to determine whether the coronavirus constitutes a public health emergency.
Meanwhile, according to data released by Energy Information Administration (EID), 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.
Gasoline inventories were up by 1.2 million barrels, 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.