Energy Economy

Crude Oil Drops Below $64 a Barrel

oil storage terminal
Source: Thinkstock
The last time a barrel of crude oil sold for less than $64 was July 2009. Early Monday morning the price of a barrel of West Texas Intermediate (WTI) for January delivery dropped to $63.72 after its previous close at $66.15. At about 8:00 a.m. on Monday, the price had climbed back to around $66.18.

Since posting a recent high of $107.52 a barrel in mid-June, the price of WTI crude has declined by about 40%.

Brent crude for January delivery dropped as low as $67.53 a barrel on the ICE before recovering to $70.35.

The falling price of crude has sent pump prices in 15 cities across the United States to an average below $2.50 a gallon. While that is good for U.S. drivers, the tumbling prices are playing havoc with independent U.S. producers with significant operations in domestic shale oil plays.

The hardest hit may be Energy XXI Ltd. (NASDAQ: EXXI), which closed down more than 36% on Friday and was down more than 4% in Monday’s premarket trading at $3.87. The stock posted a new 52-week low of $3.83 on Friday, and the 52-week high is $27.69. Trading volume averages 5.8 million shares a day and the stock traded 15.3 million shares on Friday.

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Goodrich Petroleum Corp. (NYSE: GDP) closed down about 34% on Friday, after posting a new 52-week low of $5.60. Shares were down 3% in Monday’s premarket at $6.00, after closing at $6.05 on Friday. The stock’s average daily volume is around 2.2 million shares, and nearly 8 million shares changed hands in Friday’s shortened session.

These and other smaller shale producers are threatened with being driven out of business by low crude prices. Energy XXI, for example, had an average selling price of $106.31 per barrel of crude in the third quarter of 2013. That fell to $96.28 a barrel in the third quarter of this year and will almost certainly be lower in the current quarter. The company’s operating expenses increased from $225.2 million to $352.1 million year-over-year in the third quarter, including costs associated with its $2.5 billion acquisition of EPL Oil & Gas in June 2014. Volumes were up, but the company posted a net loss of $9.3 million in the 2014 third quarter, compared with a year-ago profit of $40.3 million.

Even Exxon Mobil Corp. (NYSE: XOM) dropped more than 4% on Friday on above average volume, and Chevron Corp. (NYSE: CVX) was down nearly 5.5% with volume near 12 million shares, compared with a daily average of 7.2 million.

Investors are not seeing any short-term positives in the oil and gas sector, and rising volatility makes a longer-term view quite risky.

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