Oil Plunges as Japan's Refiners Shut Plants After Earthquake

Oil Plunges as Japan's Refiners Shut Plants After Earthquake 
Oil fell below $100 a barrel in New York for the first time in more than a week after Japan’s strongest earthquake in at least a century forced refiners to shut several processing plants.

U.S. crude futures were headed for their first weekly decline in a month following the temblor in the world’s third- largest oil user. A fire at Cosmo Oil Co.’s refinery in Chiba, outside Tokyo, is spreading, a Fire Department spokesman said. JX Nippon Oil & Energy Corp. closed refineries in Sendai, Kashima and Negishi. In London, Brent crude was set for its first weekly decline in seven.

“The earthquake is having a psychological impact on the market in triggering a rise in risk aversion,” said Carsten Fritsch, an analyst at Commerzbank AG in Frankfurt. “The effect is also physical, in that oil demand from Japan could temporarily be lower.”

Crude for April delivery tumbled as much as $3.69, or 3.6 percent, to $99.01 a barrel in electronic trading on the New York Mercantile Exchange. It was at $100.38 at 1:02 p.m. London time. Prices this week are down 3.9 percent, the first weekly drop in a month.

Brent oil for April settlement on the London-based ICE Futures Europe exchange dropped as much as $3.18, or 2.8 percent, to $112.25 a barrel. It was trading at $113.19 at 1:01 p.m. local time. The contract has lost 2.4 percent this week.

‘Day of Rage’

Anti-government demonstrators in Saudi Arabia, OPEC’s largest producer, are advocating a “Day of Rage” today, and police in anti-riot vehicles patrolled the capital, Riyadh. In the kingdom’s Eastern Province, home to many of its minority Shiite Muslims, three people were injured yesterday when security forces broke up a protest in the city of Qatif, Major General Mansour al-Turki, an Interior Ministry spokesman, said.

“There is a risk, yes. Is it big? I don’t think so,” Christophe de Margerie, chief executive officer of Total SA, said at a press conference in Paris today. “The world has understood that it’s not in anyone’s interest that the Middle East flares up.”

Crude exports from Libya, where oil facilities have been targeted in a civil war, are “well below” 500,000 barrels a day, according to the International Energy Agency. That represents roughly a third of the oil the North African nation produced on average in January and February, data compiled by Bloomberg show. Shipments may have dropped to as little as 300,000 barrels a day, Al Arabiya television reported, citing Shokri Ghanem, chairman of Libya’s state-run National Oil Corp.

Oil Stockpiles

The Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries said in its monthly report today that there may be a “contra-seasonal” drop in global oil stockpiles over the next three months as a result of turmoil in the Middle East and North Africa.

Japan was struck by an 8.9-magnitude earthquake off the northern coast near the city of Sendai at 2:46 p.m. local time. The country was hit by 10 aftershocks, according to the U.S. Geological Survey.

The temblor forced Cosmo Oil to shut its 220,000 barrel-a- day refinery in the city of Chiba after a fire started at the facility’s storage tanks, said Yusuke Kanada, a company spokesman. JX Nippon’s three plants that closed have a combined processing capacity of about 600,000 barrels daily.

Japan consumed 4.42 million barrels a day of oil in 2010, according to data from the IEA’s Feb. 10 Monthly Oil Market Report. China used 9.39 million barrels and the U.S., 19.25 million, the agency said.

Analysts surveyed by Bloomberg News were split over the direction of crude oil prices next week amid spreading unrest in the Middle East and signs that the global economic rebound is slowing.

Fifteen of 36 analysts, or 42 percent, forecast crude will advance through March 18. Fifteen predicted futures will decline. Six said there will be little change.