An Aramco employee walks near an oil tank at Saudi Aramco’s Ras Tanura oil refinery and oil terminal in Saudi Arabia.

Ahmed Jadallah | Reuters

OPEC and its allies could meet soon to discuss deepening their production cuts, in an effort to stem the sharp decline in oil prices due to a demand scare from the coronavirus outbreak.

Oil has plunged 21.4% from the early January high when Iran launched rockets at U.S. military bases in Iraq. Oil markets had expected an improving global economy this year, after the U.S. and China reached a first phase trade deal, but the coronavirus has now threatened Chinese and global growth.

“This is a worst case scenario for them—a hit to demand in China,” said John Kilduff, partner with Again Capital. Kilduff said if they move the meeting, they could cut back even more production on an emergency basis.

West Texas Intermediate was at $51.59 per barrel Friday, after trading as high as $65.65 in early January.

OPEC officials had been scheduled to meet in early March with Russia and their other non-OPEC partners to review their production deal, and possibly increase their cutbacks. Now market speculation is focused on another large reduction by producers, who are anxious to steady the market.

On Friday, Russian Energy Minister Alexander Novak said that the group could discuss moving its meeting forward but said it needs several more days to monitor the situation. There was some speculation a new meeting could be as early as the coming week.

“If you’re going to meet early, then you had to do something,” said Helima Croft, head of global commodities research at RBC. “I don’t think you would call an early meeting just to roll it over.”

Oil’s drop has been stunning as it follows a large reduction in market supply after a Libyan pipeline was shutdown, forcing 800,000 a day off the market. At the same time, OPEC and Russia have been maintaining their agreement to withhold 1.8 million barrels a day.

“It has completely changed the dynamic. It takes a hatchet to the demand growth outlook for this year,” said Kilduff. “There was a hope for the economy, but now it’s going out the window. China is the flip of Saudi Arabia. That’s the swing demand center, and now the swing demand center is shutting down.”

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