Oil prices dropped sharply on Monday as the House voted down a $700 billion bailout plan for the financial markets, raising the specter of slower economic growth and depressed demand for petroleum products. The House leadership, however, plans a second attempt to pass the bill.
Crude oil futures fell $10.68 to close at $96.21 a barrel on the New York Mercantile Exchange. They have lost nearly $25 since last Monday, and dropped sharply as the House voting began.
In the last two weeks, commodity markets have been shaken by the turmoil on Wall Street while still recovering from the impact of two powerful hurricanes in the Gulf of Mexico. After reaching $145.29 a barrel in July, prices had slumped to nearly $90 a barrel earlier this month as the nation’s economic prospects dimmed. But in a wild market, they spiked back up last week on the back of tremendous uncertainty in the financial markets.
Anxiety once again gripped investors on Monday after Congressional leaders failed to garner enough votes to pass a compromise bailout agreement that was reached over the weekend. The plan, the biggest bailout in history, would have allowed the Treasury Department to buy back troubled assets held by banks and other financial institutions. It is unclear when the House can reschedule a vote, or whether it will pass this time.
Before the vote, investors were also reminded that the financial crisis was far from over. In the latest episode of the unfolding meltdown, Citigroup will buy the banking operations of the Wachovia Corporation, the government said Monday. Meanwhile, the Belgian, Dutch and Luxembourg governments partially nationalized the European financial conglomerate Fortis, another sign that the crisis that began because of sour home mortgages in the United States could be spreading.
Analysts at Barclays Capital said the frantic weekend negotiations that led to the bailout agreement “appear to have failed to revive market sentiment.” As the economic situation deteriorates, the demand for commodities, including oil, is expected to slow.
“The outlook for global equity, interest rate and exchange rate markets has become increasingly uncertain,” analysts at Deutsche Bank wrote in a note to investors. “We believe commodities will be unable to escape the contagion. From a commodity perspective our most pressing concern is to what extent the U.S. virus spreads globally and specifically to China.”
The bank’s analysts pared their expectations for next year as oil consumption drops because of slowing economic growth, reducing their oil and gas price forecasts by about 20 percent for 2009.
Concerns that the crisis might be spreading to Europe helped push down the value of the European common currency. The euro dropped against the dollar to $1.43 on Monday from $1.46 on Friday.
The weaker economic outlook could further push down oil prices in the coming months if demand for oil in developed countries keeps falling, according to Ben Dell, an analyst at Bernstein Research. He expects oil consumption could fall by 1.3 million barrels a day, or 2.6 percent, in the fourth quarter this year. That is much more than the 470,000 barrels a day drop forecast from the International Energy Agency.