Oil prices surged as rumours abound on social media over the health of Saudi Arabia’s King Abdullah.
The Saudi ruler is battling pneumonia in a hospital in Riyadh. Prince Salman, the kingdom’s defence minister and heir apparent, delivered the king’s speech Tuesday at the Shura Council, prompting renewed concern about the ailing monarch and the possibility of instability in the country if there were a disputed succession.
Oil prices had been taking another battering in early trading Wednesday, with Brent crude hitting its lowest level since May 2009. It dropped below $US50 for the first time in six years.
Yet at about 4 a.m. ET, the price of US benchmark West Texas Intermediate crude jumped from $US47 a barrel to over $US48.50 a barrel, while Brent crude re-crossed the $US5o-a-barrel mark:
Some blamed the commodity’s flash rally on a Twitter account purporting to be Saud al Faisal, Saudi Arabia’s foreign minister. A tweet from the account, which had garnered over 2,000 followers, said King Abdullah had died, prompting a flurry of activity on the social network.
Numerous users questioned whether the account was genuine, suggesting that it had the hallmarks of notorious Italian prankster Tommaso De Benedetti. Their suspicions were proved correct:
At the time of writing the oil price was once again slipping, suggesting the recent rout may not be over. WTI has fallen back to around $US48 a barrel.
If De Benedetti is indeed partly responsible for the spike, however, it may prove to be one of his most effective hoaxes yet. As once observer joked: