Global oil prices plunged Friday, taking U.S. crude to a three week low, as investors reacted to a worrying slump in China exports, alongside slowing growth in Europe, that have raised serious questions over the health of the global economy.
China's customs office said Friday that February exports fell nearly 21% from last year, more than four times what analysts had forecast and the biggest slum in three years, as Beijing's ongoing trade war with Washington hammered world demand. That data was followed by a much weaker-than-expected reading for February job creation in the United Sates, which slowed to just 20,000 from revised reading of 311,000 in the previous month.
Brent crude contracts for May delivery, the global benchmark for oil prices, were marked $1.88 lower from their Thursday close and changing hands at $64.11 per barrel in early New York trading. WTI contracts for April delivery, which are more tightly linked to U.S. gasoline prices, were seen $1.68 lower at $54.98 per barrel, the lowest since February 14.
Oil stocks were hit hard by the decline, with BP Plc (BP - Get Report) falling 1.53% in London to 532.4 pence each and rival Royal Dutch Shell (RDS.A - Get Report) slumping 2.32% to €26.95 in Amsterdam.
The sector was also under pressure from news that Norway's sovereign wealth fund, one of the largest in the world, will start selling its stakes in oil exploration companies as the trillion dollar fund divests holdings linked to climate change, but will continue to invest in integrated firms such as BP, Chevron (CVX - Get Report) and Exxon Mobil (XOM - Get Report) .
Chevron, which has rebounded some 20% since hitting a Christmas Eve trough of $100.99, was marked 1.85% lower at $119.60 each at the start of trading on Wall Street rival Exxon Mobil was seen 2% lower at $78.54 each.
Norges Bank Investment Management had asked the Finance Ministry in late 2017 for permission to dump some of its oil and gas holdings in order to "make the government's wealth less vulnerable to a permanent drop in oil and gas prices" even as it insisted the move wasn't necessarily a reflection of "any particular view of future movements in oil and gas prices or the profitability or sustainability of the oil and gas sector."
The Ministry agreed the shift today, and will seek broader Parliamentary approval in the coming weeks, with sales expected for stocks such as Premier Oil (PMOIY) and Tullow Oil (TUWOY) ., which were marked 4% and 3.7% lower respectively in London
"The objective is to reduce the vulnerability of our common wealth to a permanent oil price decline," the Finance Minister Siv Jensen said in a statement published Friday. "Hence, it is more accurate to seel companies which explore and produce oil and gas, rather than selling a broadly diversified energy sector.