The ongoing oil market rout entered its third day on Wednesday (2 November), extending one-month lows as City traders suggested splits within Opec could undermine its stance of reducing output and send the crude price down to $40 (£32.50, €36) per barrel.
At 3.18pm BST, the West Texas Intermediate (WTI) front month futures contract was down 3.15% or $1.47 to $45.20 per barrel, while Brent was 3.10% or $1.49 lower at $46.65 per barrel, as both contracts stayed in intraday negative territory, extending overnight losses and mirroring Monday's decline of more than 3%.
Bearish sentiment remains stubbornly resilient following Iraq's request for an exemption from Opec's pledge made in September to lower production from 34.6 million barrels per day (bpd) to a 32.5 million to 33.0 million bpd range. Iran, Libya and Nigeria are also not expected to join the output reduction programme.
In the wake of the pledge, both benchmarks spiked to a 15-month high on 19 October but have been in general retreat ever since, with market commentators predicting a plunge towards $40 should Opec fail to act at its next meeting.
Mike Wittner, New York-based head of oil market research at Societe Generale, said: "Opec production meetings of this nature always go right down to the wire. There is a lot at stake here. If Opec members don't reach an agreement oil will fall like a rock and be testing $40 in no time."
In a note to its clients, investment bank Goldman Sachs said: "The lack of an agreement so far has pushed oil prices sharply lower, with weakening oil fundamentals warranting oil prices in the low $40s a barrel in our view if Opec is unable to deliver a convincing agreement."
Analysts at Vienna-based JBC Energy said US inventory data was also justifying the drop in oil prices, as overnight data from the American Petroleum Institute (API) implied a 9.3 million barrel crude stock build-up stateside.
"Meanwhile, financial markets are currently providing mixed signals for oil markets. Shorts have increased by more than 40% on the Brent side in the space of two weeks. Questions about how Opec can achieve its targeted cut are becoming more and more pertinent."
In the face of rising market scepticism, Opec Secretary General Mohammed Barkindo told Bloomberg TV that all of the cartel's 14 members as well as non-Opec Russia are committed to finalising the agreement. He also insisted that even Iraq was willing to play its part in the programme, despite opposite views being expressed by Baghdad.
Away from the oil market, gold futures spiked above $1,300 an ounce on US election jitters and a weaker dollar. At 3.02pm BST, the Comex gold futures contract for December delivery was up 1.29% or $16.60 to $1,304.60 an ounce, extending the previous session's gains. However, few expect the rally to last.
Fawad Razaqzada, market analyst at Forex.com, said: "Thanks to increased uncertainty about the US elections and a drop in the dollar, the buck-denominated gold has been surging higher in recent days.
"The stock market sell-off has further supported the perceived safe haven precious metal. However, the stay above $1,300 could be short-lived as I believe the dollar could make a comeback soon – if not this week then probably the week after."
Elsewhere, Comex silver futures notched a marginal gain of 1.10% or 20 cents to $18.62 an ounce, while spot platinum was 0.45% or $4.43 higher at $996.48 an ounce.