World share prices skidded Tuesday after the price of U.S. crude oil plunged below zero, with demand collapsing as the pandemic leaves factories, automobiles and airplanes idled.
The extreme volatility in energy markets highlighted investors' broad concerns about the duration of the pandemic and its impact on the economy, weighing on financial markets more broadly.
In Europe, Germany's DAX stock index lost 2.4% to 10,420 and the CAC 40 in France shed 2.2% to 4,428. Britain's FTSE 100 declined 1.7% to 5,714.
Wall Street looked set for losses, with the future contract for the S&P 500 down 1.3%, while the contract for the Dow industrials lost 1.7%.
A growing glut of oil is pushing storage capacity to its limits, leading to unprecedented drops in crude markets.
The U.S. benchmark's settled at negative $37.63 per barrel on Monday and on Tuesday, the cost to have a barrel of U.S. crude delivered in May was at negative $7.40 per barrel.
When trading of contracts for U.S. oil to be delivered in May expire on Tuesday, the earliest delivery available will be for June. Analysts consider the June contract to now be closer to the ``true'' price of crude.
But even the June contract was falling sharply. It was down $3.85 at $16.58 per barrel, trading as low as $11.79 a barrel at one point.
The tumult in the oil market mirrors volatility in many others and reflects uncertainty over where the world economy will head as governments begin to loosen controls imposed to contain the coronavirus.
``We could merely be in the eye of the hurricane as the epicenters of its rage remain centered around demand devastation and crude oil oversupply,`` Stephen Innes of AxiCorp. said in a commentary.
``At a minimum, oil prices will be the last asset class to recover from lockdown`` and only when travel restrictions are lifted, he said.
Brent crude, the international standard, dropped $4.14 to $21.43. It fell nearly 9% on Monday to $25.57 per barrel.
``The historic drop in WTI prices is an indication of the downward pressure which many other crude oil grades could face, given the oversupply situation,`` Sushant Gupta of Wood Mackenzie said in a report.
On the bright side, given the very low prices right now, ``It also provides an opportunity for large consuming nations in Asia such as China and India to expedite filling up their petroleum reserves.``
Gupta said India, for example, still has up to 13 million barrels of spare capacity out of a total of 39 million barrels of storage capacity.
In stock markets, while share prices have gradually stabilized after wild swings earlier this year, uncertainty over growing numbers of coronavirus cases in Japan and in some Southeast Asian countries has left investors wary about new waves of infections.
Unconfirmed reports Tuesday that North Korean leader Kim Jong Un was in fragile condition after surgery added to the jitters. But South Korea's government said Kim appeared to be handling state affairs as usual.
Tokyo's Nikkei 225 stock index fell 2% Tuesday to 19,280.78 while the Hang Seng index in Hong Kong lost 2.2% to 23,793.55. South Korea's Kospi slipped 1%, to 1,879.38.
Australia's S&P/ASX 200 fell 2.5% to 5,221.30 and the Shanghai Composite index gave up 0.9% to 2,827.01.
In a sign of continued caution in the market, Treasury yields remained extremely low. The yield on the 10-year Treasury slipped to 0.57% from 0.62% late Monday.
In currency trading, the dollar edged down to 107.40 Japanese yen from 107.63 on Monday. The euro fell to $1.0831 from $1.0862.