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Oil prices, ruble in freefall

December 1, 2014

Markets are in panic mode as the price of oil continues to fall, dragging down oil-linked currencies and European shares. Those worries are compounded by weak factory output in China and prospects of deflation in Europe.

A derek pumps in an oil field
Image: Getty Images/J. Raedle

Oil prices sank to new five-year lows on Monday, sending resource-dependent currencies tumbling and dragging down European energy stocks.

The Russian ruble was in freefall, down 8 percent from Friday's close and trading at 66 rubles against the euro and 50 rubles against the dollar. It was the Russian currency's steepest one-day slide since 1998, when the country defaulted on its debt during a financial crisis.

The ruble is particularly sensitive to fluctuations in energy prices due to the dependence of the Russian economy on petroleum and gas exports. Its losses were tempered by what many traders suspected was intervention by Russia's central bank.

The price of Brent crude oil fell below $68 (54.58 euros) a barrel in Monday trading, but recovered most of its losses and was down 7 cents at $70.07 by mid-afternoon GMT.

Pressure on oil prices has been compounded by last week's OPEC decision not to stem production levels and this week's figures showing factory activity slowing in China and Europe.

"The market is in a state of panic," said energy analyst Hans von Cleef. "Next year's oil price will be significantly lower than 2014."

Amrita Sen, another oil expert with Energy Aspects, said Brent prices were likely to stabilize around $65 to $80 in the short term. The commodity's dip to $67.53 per barrel marked its lowest level since October 2009.

Malaysia's currency, the ringgit, is also oil-dependent and saw its worst two-day fall since the 1997 and 1998 Asian financial crisis.

The slump has been largely attributed to a glut in production of US shale oil, a fast-growing segment that prompted OPEC to weigh cutting its output, although that decision was ultimately blocked by Saudi Arabia.

Spiraling oil prices have also helped drive down annual inflation in the eurozone to close to zero, adding to worries about deflation in the 18-member common currency bloc.

cjc/ng (dpa, Reuters)