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Second Quarter Winds Down In Quiet Fashion
The second quarter is winding down in a quiet fashion so far with minimal moves in refined products, although oil prices are feeling some downward pressure in the early going. From a chart perspective, most energy futures are moving into a neutral territory which suggests the summer doldrums may soon be upon us with choppy but aimless trading to be expected.
July RBOB and ULSD/HO futures expire today, so look to the August (RBQ/HOQ) contracts for price direction this afternoon.
This was an unprecedented six months for energy markets. Remember in January when the U.S. and Iran started lobbing missiles at each other, threatening to send crude to $100/barrel? What a quaint idea that seemed just three months later when prices for WTI went negative for the first time ever, then about 25 minutes later went to negative $40/barrel.
Perhaps most remarkable about all of it is that as the dust is settling, oil prices are ending the same quarter that saw a 350 percent price drop in one day, with their largest quarterly percentage increase in three decades.
Looking back, the second quarter may be remembered as either the ultimate sign of American resilience, with U.S. energy and equity markets rallying sharply in the face of so much fear and uncertainty, or perhaps as one of the biggest head-fakes of all time if those fears come true later in the year.
It’s been a rough week so far for the oil majors. Exxon announced it was preparing substantial
job cuts over the weekend, BP announced it was selling its chemicals unit Monday, and now Shell announced it was planning an asset write down of up to $22 billion this morning.
Refiners aren’t faring much better these days as margins remain tight, and production increases are hampered by the unknown impact of the latest activity restrictions. Some Midwest refiners are also having to deal with the closure of Enbridge’s line 5 – which could become permanent – and is forcing at least temporary run cuts at OH and MI refineries.
Better times ahead? The Dallas FED’s Texas Manufacturing outlook showed a strong recovery in June, indicating an expansion in factory output after three months of steep declines. Similar to the energy outlook published last week, the factory survey shows expectations that most operations will be close to full capacity by the end of the year. That optimism may be a key barometer to watch in July as we’ll get a chance to see whether or not the tighter restrictions at the state and local levels impact these businesses.
After a volatile June, RIN values have been quiet as we approach month end. The possibility of retroactive small refinery exemptions continues to seem to be the market driving ping pong ball in the renewables market, with governors on the ag side of the debate weighing in with the EPA this week.
Click here to download a PDF of today's TACenergy Market Talk.
Open Or Closed?
Open or closed? That seems to be the debate for energy and equity markets as June trading winds down and we approach what is typically one of the busiest travel weeks of the year.
So far this morning bullish sentiment is outweighing limited rollbacks in US states reopening plans, after that news sparked a heavy selloff across asset classes last week. In the energy space, once again gasoline prices are the most volatile as RBOB futures rallied nearly six cents off of its overnight lows to manage small gains this morning after dropping 15 cents last week.
Baker Hughes reported a decline of “only” one oil rig last week, bringing the total U.S. count to a fresh 11 year low for oil, and the latest in a streak of record lows for combined oil and
gas drilling. The bright side of the report was the weekly drop is the smallest since the COVID-19 collapse in rig counts began, and with prices now hovering close to $40, the positive second derivative in rig counts suggests the end of cut backs may be near.
Money managers continue to seem unenthusiastic about energy trading with only minor changes in positions over the past several weeks, while open interest for WTI dropped to its lowest since February. The drop in open interest is likely due to a combination of factors including volatility returning to normal levels, new oil contracts competing with WTI for market share, and the end of the super contango storage trades.
Speaking of storage: The EIA this morning took a closer look at record high U.S. oil inventories, in reference to reported tank capacity. Although the country has more crude oil on hand than ever, that’s still just 62 percent of working capacity. The NYMEX delivery hub in Cushing, OK, reached 83 percent of capacity in April, but has dropped to 58 percent currently. The report also highlights how both storage capacity and inventories have risen dramatically in the Gulf Coast region over the past year.
Energy Prices Stumble Into The Weekend
Energy prices are stumbling into the weekend after an impressive bounce-back Thursday seemed to stem the tide of selling. U.S. equity markets have followed a similar pattern, rallying sharply after heavy selling, following the FED’s announcement that it would roll back part of the Volcker rule that restricted banks from certain trading activities.
The weekly action has been rough for refiners as gasoline took the hardest hit, adding further pressure to crack spreads that are already treading in troubled waters. The forward curve charts below suggest that the market is expecting those margins to improve slowly over time, but at the current rate of demand recovery, prices suggest a challenging environment for the next nine months.
The EIA this morning reported that the U.S. reached new record for refining capacity at the start of the year. This report of capacity is less relevant than normal half way through the year, as it includes both the PES refinery capacity – even though it’s been closed for a year – and the Holly Cheyenne facility that’s being converted to RD production. The report did note the Limetree bay (FKA Hovensa) plant was reactivated last year, which is counted in the rarely mention PADD 6.
As U.S. oil output and refinery capacity has grown, the industry has been shifting away from the Cushing, OK hub, while the U.S. Gulf Coast is seeing more traffic. The race to profit from this shift goes beyond the physical markets as reporting agencies are rushing to add to the growing list of USGC based crude oil contracts vying to take share from the WTI contract.
The Dallas FED’s Energy Survey for the second quarter showed the largest drop in activity on record at -66%, which acts as no surprise to anyone who has been awake at some time during the past three months. What was unique in this report was that the FED included a section of special questions to better understand the industry reaction to the pandemic, and the results have several surprises. For example, of the 165 oil and gas firms that responded, only five percent reported pipeline or storage restrictions as a cause for reducing their output. In addition, 85 percent expect to have their shut-in production back online in September, and nearly half expect that even in the $30 range that production will come back online. Charts fall below.
Click here to download a PDF of today's TACenergy Market Talk.
Fear Is Back In The Driver's Seat
Fear is back in the driver’s seat for many markets this week with gasoline prices down 19 cents since running into resistance at the 200-day moving average Tuesday, and diesel is down a dime in that two day stretch. Equity market are seeing similar selling across the board, as new restrictions imposed by states have many fearing a demand collapse like we saw this spring.
If you just saw the 10 cent drop in gasoline prices or nickel drop in diesel Wednesday, you might justifiably assume there were some ugly inventory numbers in the DOE report that sent the market reeling. In reality, the DOE report was fairly neutral with only minimal inventory changes and a strong increase in both gasoline and total petroleum demand on the week.
The head scratching numbers from the DOE were the sudden increase in crude oil production of ½ million barrels/day on the week, and the reduction of 600 of the unaccounted for crude oil. It seems that either the agency is either demonstrating how challenging it is to estimate oil production made up of thousands of individual wells on a weekly basis, or actual output has actually recovered much faster than just about anyone expected in the past couple of weeks. That increase in output was enough to offset increased refinery runs and a strong week for exports to push total U.S. crude oil inventories to a new all-time high.
Gasoline demand is now roughly ¾ of the way back from its COVID-19 slump after a big jump last week. Total U.S. consumption is now estimated at 8.6 million barrels/day, up from a low of five million barrels daily during the worst of the initial stay at home period, but still more than a million barrels daily below where we should be this time of year. It seems safe to say that the market is currently more concerned that we’re going to see another drop based on the states’ reactions this week rather than a continued climb in the coming weeks.
Week 25 - US DOE Inventory Recap
Pausing After Weak Finish To Tuesday's Session
The rally in stocks and energy futures is on pause Wednesday, after a weak finish to Tuesday’s session. New tariff tiff talks are taking credit for some of the early selling, in addition to the daily scary headlines of rising infection counts around the world.
RBOB gasoline futures are leading the move lower – taking back their spot as the most volatile of the petroleum contracts and snapping a streak of eight straight daily increases – even though the API reportedly showed a large decline in gasoline inventories of almost four million barrels last week. The industry report also showed a decline in distillates of 2.6 million barrels, while total U.S. crude oil stocks had a small increase of 1.7 million barrels even though refinery runs ticked higher on the week. The DOE’s version of the weekly stats is due out at its normal time this morning.
Tropical Storm Dolly was named Tuesday, but is expected to stay well off the Eastern coast of the U.S. and Canada. It’s been a busy season so far, although the traditional storm producing areas have taken a brief pause as an enormous plume of Saharan dust makes its way across the Atlantic, preventing tropical development before settling along the U.S. Gulf Coast. Meanwhile, non-tropical storms have been creating some headaches across refinery country this week, with numerous emissions events reported as a result of power outages and lightning strikes, although the limited reaction in cash markets suggests minimal if any impact from those minor events.
Looking for something more severe in your weather report? A major earthquake in southern Mexico knocked the country’s largest refinery offline Tuesday following a fire. Like most of Mexico’s refineries, that plant has been operating well below capacity for some time due to a lack of maintenance funds and expertise, so this incident may not have a lasting impact, but there is a chance it could create some bidding for waterborne barrels otherwise destined for the U.S. West Coast.