Oil and US share prices tumble over fears for global economy

US stocks fell heavily on Wednesday, with the Standard & Poor’s 500 falling 2.5% to take the index below 1,900 points for the first time since September, due to growing concerns about the falling oil price, which dipped below $30 a barrel for the first time in nearly 12 years.

The S&P 500, which closed at 1,890 points, suffered its worst day since September and has fallen by 10% since its November peak taking it into “correction” territory, something that has not happened since August 2014.

The Dow Jones industrial average dropped by 364 points, or 2.2%, to 16,151, and the Nasdaq composite dropped 159 points, or 3.4%, to 4,526. This deepened the New York stock exchange’s already worst start to a year on record.

Wednesday’s stock market declines were triggered by new figures showing US gasoline stockpiles had increased to record high, which caused Brent crude prices to fall as low as $29.96, their lowest level since April 2004, before settling at $30.31, a 1.8% fall. The oil price has fallen by 73% since a peak of $115 reached in the summer of 2014.

Industry data showed that US gasoline inventories soared by 8.4m barrels and stocks of diesel and heating oil increased by more than 6m barrels – confirming the forecasts of many analysts that a huge oversupply of oil could keep prices low during most of 2016.

Analysts said that growing fears of a weakening outlook for the global economy, made worse by falling oil prices, was behind the steep falls. Some oil analysts this week predicted that the price could fall as low as $10.
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In recent days several analysts have warned that the global economy could suffer a repeat of the 2008 crash if the knock-on effects of a contraction in Chinese output pushes down commodity prices further and sparks panic selling on stock and bond markets.

Amid the turmoil, a $48bn bond offer by brewer Anheuser-Busch Inbev – to fund its takeover of SAB Miller – attracted a record $110bn of offers as investors sought relatively safe investments.

Earlier in the day China’s stock market fell more than 2% after officials played down the significance of better-than-expected trade figures for December, saying exports could sink further before they find a floor.

The numbers surprised the markets, where economists had been forecasting a much weaker reading. Traders were also cheered when the numbers were translated into the weakening local currency, the yuan, which showed exports reaching a record value in December, up 2% on the previous year.

They appeared to offset gloomy predictions of a stock market rout in 2016 made by several investment bank analysts, including RBS’s credit chief, Andrew Roberts.