Brent crude hits a 5-year low of $58.50 a barrel as Opec vows to keep oil flowing

Oil prices sank to new lows with the Brent crude sliding to a five-year low under $59 and the producer group Organisation of Petroleum Exporting Countries (Opec) sticking to their stance of not reducing supplies in a market rocked by shrinking demand.

The benchmark January contract of North Sea Brent crude was trading at $58.50 a barrel in London at mid-day, the lowest level since May 2009, and New York's West Texas Intermediate (WTI) for January hit a low of $53.80 a barrel.

Opec secretary-general Abdallah Salem el-Badri said the group has decided to leave things as they are. ''The decision has been made. Things will be left as is," El-Badri said in Dubai.

"The fundamentals should not lead to this dramatic reduction in price," el-Badri added.

Opec, he said, was "assessing the situation to determine what the real reasons behind the decrease in oil prices are".

The price of Opec basket of 12 crudes stood at $57.92 a barrel on Monday, compared with $58.65 the previous Friday, according to Opec Secretariat calculations.

The new Opec reference basket of crudes include Saharan Blend (Algeria), Girassol (Angola), Oriente (Ecuador), Iran Heavy (Islamic Republic of Iran), Basra Light (Iraq), Kuwait Export (Kuwait), Es Sider (Libya), Bonny Light (Nigeria), Qatar Marine (Qatar), Arab Light (Saudi Arabia), Murban (UAE) and Merey (Venezuela).

El-Badri said Opec's decision to leave production levels unchanged was not aimed at undermining other oil producers.

"Some people say this decision was directed at the United States and shale oil. All of this is incorrect. Some also say it was directed at Iran. And Russia. This also is incorrect," he said.

The price of Brent crude has dropped almost 50 per cent since June on sluggish global demand and rising production from the US.