Oil prices are set for their worst year since 2015 — here’s what went wrong – CNBC

But by October, forecasters were warning that demand for oil would grow more slowly than previously anticipated. The same month, the stock market plunged, hammered by a sell-off in high-flying technology names, the ongoing U.S.-China trade dispute and rising interest rates.

Investors began dumping risk assets, and by the end of the month, oil had plunged about $11 a barrel from its Oct. 3 high. Momentum trading and the rotation out of slumping crude futures and into rising natural gas contracts also deepened losses for oil, analysts say.

Making matters worse, when the sanctions officially snapped back into place on Iran on Nov. 5, President Donald Trump surprised the market by granting generous exemptions to the Islamic Republic’s biggest customers. That meant Saudi Arabia, Russia and several other producers had been hiking output into a market where demand growth was moderating and fewer Iranian barrels than expected were lost.

At year-end, the U.S.-China trade dispute remains unresolved, and the market remains concerned that a full-blown trade war between the world’s two biggest economies will dent fuel demand. Meanwhile, American crude output is growing more quickly than expected, with the United States topping Saudi Arabia and Russia to become the world’s biggest producer in the second half of 2018.

However, many U.S. producers need oil prices in the $50-$55 range to break even on the cost of new wells, which is forcing some energy companies to tap the breaks, said Neal Dingmann, oil equity analyst at Suntrust Robinson Humphrey.

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