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Crude opens lower as coronavirus spreads, Emirates suspends flights

Highlights

Flight suspensions to hit jet fuel demand

Jet fuel, gasoline crack spreads weaken

New York — Oil futures opened lower Sunday evening, as global coronavirus cases continued to rise over the weekend, and following news that UAE's Emirates airline will suspend most passenger flights.

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At 2212 GMT, NYMEX front-month crude was trading around $21.12/b, down $1.51 from Friday's settle, while ICE front-month Brent was trading $2.15 lower at $24.83/b.

As of Sunday, there were 329,858 confirmed cases globally, up roughly 25,000 cases on the day, according to Johns Hopkins University.

With the coronavirus spreading, and deaths rising, governments have imposed stricter limits on travel and gatherings. Both New York and California have mandated that 100% of non-essential workers remain home.

UAE's Emirates, the world's biggest long-haul airline, will suspend most passenger flights as of March 25, operating mainly cargo, as one of Dubai's main economic pillars takes a hit from the outbreak of the coronavirus.

The news followed announcements by several other international airlines, which have suspended or reduced activity because of the virus. According to FlightStats, there have been 188,067 global flight cancellations over the past 30 days.

The suspension of passenger flights is bound to hit jet fuel demand.

"We estimate jet fuel demand for UAE was at least 180,000 b/d in 2019, accounting for more than 30% of the jet fuel consumption in the Middle East region and more than 2.5% of the global jet fuel demand," according to S&P Global Platts Analytics.

"Given the increasing connectivity of UAE's international flights in different regions, we understand the impact of suspending will likely dampen the global jet fuel demand more than that to the ME regional demand," Platts Analytics added.

Jet fuel crack spreads have weakened on the cuts in air travel. The Singapore jet fuel crack against Brent crude closed Friday at $2.18/b, down from $11.34/b January 20, when the coronavirus first began to rattle markets, S&P Global Platts data shows.

The New York jet crack against Brent ended Friday at minus $2.45/b, down from $14.18/b January 20.

Gasoline crack spreads have also weakened on the drop in driving demand. The May RBOB crack spread against Brent closed Friday at minus 40 cents/b.

Diesel cracks have been strong relative to gasoline and jet, on the expectation that industrial demand will hold up.

However, with jet fuel prices weakening, some excess supply will likely be blended into the diesel pool, which could weigh on diesel cracks, according to Platts Analytics.