An oil pumpjack operates on April 20, 2020 in Signal Hill, near Long Beach, California. Oil prices traded in negative territory for the first time as the spread of Covid-19 impacts oil demand. Photo: AFP

The aftershocks of an unprecedented slump in oil prices into negative territory were felt across Wall Street on Monday, with stock indices starting lower and staying that way all day.

The Dow Jones Industrial Average declined 2.4% to finish the session at 23,650.44.

The broad-based S&P 500 fell 1.8% to end at 2,823.16, while the tech-rich Nasdaq also struggled, ending down 1% at 8,560.73.

The day’s most shocking developments were seen on the oil market, where the price for US benchmark West Texas Intermediate crude for May delivery plunged to below zero, ending at -$37.63 a barrel. 

The futures contract for May closes Tuesday – when traders who buy and sell the commodity for profit would have had to take physical possession of the oil – and with the glut in markets and storage facilities full, buyers were scarce.

“It’s a contract for something that nobody wants to buy,” said Matt Smith of ClipperData.

The remarkable decline occurred as it becomes evident the petroleum industry is one of the corners of the global economy most vulnerable to the economic shutdowns designed to limit the spread of coronavirus.

The commodity has been further weakened by a battle for market share that raged through much of the spring between Saudi Arabia and Russia.

A deal announced last week between OPEC and independent producers to cut output by about 10 million barrels per-day from May appears not to have been enough to shore up prices, while the closely-monitored storage capacity at Cushing, Oklahoma was almost full as of Monday morning.

“It’s a dump at all cost as no one… wants delivery of oil, with Cushing storage facilities filling by the minute,” AxiCorp’s Stephen Innes said.

Oil company share prices were predictably hard hit, with Chevron down 4.1 % and ExxonMobil 4.7% lower.

Boeing was among the biggest losers, drop 6.8%.