Oil Plunges, Flirts With Dipping Below $50

Oil prices plunged more than 4 percent to below $51 a barrel on Tuesday after Saudi Arabia said OPEC production cuts were working well and there was no need for an emergency meeting of the producer group.

U.S. crude traded down $2.22 to $50.77 per barrel at 1850 GMT after touching $50.53, the lowest level since May 26, 2005 in earlier activity. Brent futures shed 62 cents to $52.50.

The price has fallen over 16 percent since the end of last year, in part due to warm weather in the U.S. Northeast, the world's top heating oil market, in early January.

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"We took measures in October in Doha and measures in Abuja (in December) and I believe these measures are working well. Inventories in the fourth quarter have come down ... which puts the market closer to balance," Saudi Oil Minister Ali al-Naimi said in New Delhi.

"Do not panic. Actually there is no reason for a meeting."

The Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) agreed to cut 1.2 million barrels per day (bpd) of output from Nov. 1 and then to cut another 500,000 bpd from Feb. 1.

There has been speculation OPEC could hold an emergency meeting before its next scheduled conference on March 15.

Venezuelan Energy and Mines Minister Rafael Ramirez has said oil prices had fallen "too much" and that he would favor an extra meeting.

Other commodities have also faced a rocky start to the year and base metals fell in early trading on Tuesday before stabilizing around midsession.

"We should not underestimate the global mood on commodities," said Frederic Lasserre of SG CIB in Paris. "There is not as much appetite for commodities anymore."

He predicted oil prices would test $50 in the near term, but then fresh buying interest could emerge.

Analysts said OPEC would also brake the slide and deeper price falls could drive the cartel to implement further cuts.

"We don't really see a collapse in prices. The further it goes down, the more hesitant the market will be about going even further," said Eoin O'Callaghan of BNP Paribas. "OPEC still has an impact on the market."

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