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Financial Markets Unimpressed By Debate Performance
The wheels came off the energy bus Tuesday, as a four day rally was largely wiped out in a single session. Gasoline prices are now leading the complex lower for a second day, after the leading the move higher during the run up.
This is the second cycle of the four-days-up, two-days-down pattern for RBOB futures in the back half of September, with a net result of prices increasing seven cents during that time. Nearly half of those gains will be wiped out when the November contract takes over the prompt position tomorrow, as we slide down the backwardation curve heading into winter. That roll will leave gasoline prices just one decent sell-off away from the lows of the summer trading range, with the seasonal demand drop looming and threatening another move below $1 - should that support finally break.
The API report seems to be driving the direction in the early going, as a build in gasoline stocks has RBOB under pressure while draws in distillate and crude inventories has those contracts holding steady. The DOE’s weekly report is due out at its normal time, 9:30 Central. October RBOB and ULSD contracts are expiring today, so watch the November contracts (RBX & HOX) for direction in the racks.
Financial markets were apparently not impressed by the debate performance last night, which foreshadows more volatility over the next month as the election looms and potentially even more price swings should the results be contested. While the correlation between equity and energy prices has been hit or miss this year, any major moves in stocks – particularly to the downside – have the ability to pull the energy complex (which is just a fraction of the size of equity markets in dollar terms) along for the ride.
As the momentum builds towards clean(er) energy options, it should be no surprise that Wall Street is being flooded with Green Energy acquisition companies (aka SPAC’s) seeking to capitalize on investor’s desire for new ideas, whether or not they’re proven. The movement certainly has a dot-com bubble feel about it, as the majority of the companies being purchased have no revenue stream, suggesting the move by PE groups to spin them off into the public markets has less to do with creating sustainable green energy platforms, and more with racing to put more green in their own pockets before the appetite for IPOs of unproven companies market dries up.
JP Morgan has reached a settlement with the CFTC and other agencies, and will pay a $920 million fine for trade spoofing in metal and treasury markets. There’s plenty of evidence that similar forms of manipulation have been happening in energy markets over the years as well, but it remains to be seen if any of those cases will come to light.
Marathon began implementing job cuts nationwide Tuesday, after announcing plans earlier this year to reduce workforce due to demand destruction. Shell is also announcing plans to cut 7,000-9,000 jobs over the next three years, but did not indicate where those cuts would take place.
Stop Smoking: The EIA published an interesting report on the negative impact California’s wildfires are having on solar electricity production, highlighting yet another challenge with the reliability of the state’s power grid.
Energy Complex Moves Back Into Neutral Territory
It’s another quiet start as September trading winds down, with refined products taking a small step back after four straight days of gains.
The September recovery bounce after testing the summer lows early in the month has moved the energy complex back into neutral territory on the daily and weekly charts, while the monthly charts still show more downside risk as winter approaches. Monday’s rally in gasoline highlights the complicated challenge for refiners as gasoline inventories have now returned to normal levels, while a glut of distillates remains.
The EIA Monday reported that despite the COVID-related slowdowns in gasoline, diesel and jet fuel exports, the U.S. still sent more petroleum products overseas in the first half of 2020 compared to 2019 thanks to continued growth in Propane and other HGL deliveries, primarily to Asia. While those various liquids – which are mainly a byproduct of oil and natural gas drilling – have numerous uses, the growth in demand from overseas is believed to be primarily driven by production of plastics and other industrial uses, rather than transportation fuels.
The American Trucking Association is forecasting a strong recovery in trucking activity after an unprecedented decline this year in its annual freight forecast. The report estimates a rebound of nearly five percent in trucking volumes next year, then an average growth of 3.2 percent for the following five years. If that report comes to fruition it will be welcome news to U.S. refiners struggling to find a home for their distillate streams.
As various green transition programs are becoming more mainstream in the oil industry, Rosneft is warning that the industry risks another supply and price shock on the back side of the pandemic due to lack of investment in traditional resources. The FT article notes: The 100m barrel a day pre-pandemic oil market required 3m-5m b/d of new supplies to be found each year just to keep up with depletion at existing fields.
While there’s been plenty of refinery closure and project cancellation announcements lately, the refinery formerly known as Hovensa initiated start-up of the plant in the past week, after years of delays. The company planning a new build refinery in North Dakota meanwhile is detailing some of its cutting edge technology, including using corn oil to back out some crude oil, that will make its facility the “greenest” in the U.S., which they believe will offset its limited scale.
In other non-traditional refinery news, Tesla is reportedly building a lithium hydroxide refinery in Texas, adjacent to the facility that will produce its electric-powered trucks. The move to control some of the upstream pieces of its battery production sheds light on just how complex the process of harnessing electricity on a commercial scale really is.
The EPA is challenging the idea California’s governor laid out to ban gasoline-powered-car sales in the state starting in 2035, suggesting the target (which still has to have implementation goals set by the CARB) may be illegal in addition to being impractical.
Presidential Debate Expected To Be Potential Market Mover
Refined products are ticking modestly higher for a fourth straight session to start the week, but have still not erased the heavy losses we saw last Monday. There is still little in the way of market moving news directly impacting energy prices – which seems to be why we’re seeing very small trading ranges in the past week. U.S. equity markets are pointed sharply higher after dropping for a fourth straight week last week, as bargain hunters appear to be betting that the September correction has now run its course.
The presidential debate on Tuesday is expected to be a potential market mover for stocks, which could trickle down to energy markets as well.
Already permitting in the Permian basin has surged in the past few months even as prices remain below break-even levels for new drilling projects, which many believe is to avoid a potential ban on hydraulic fracturing if Biden wins the election.
Baker Hughes reported four more oil rigs were put to work last week, two in the Permian and two in the Eagle Ford shale plays, marking just the fourth weekly increase since the start of COVID.
Money managers increased their net length in WTI, Brent and RBOB contracts last week, driven primarily by short covering, although WTI did see a healthy increase in new long positions as well. ULSD continues to be the least favored among the large speculative class of trader, with another increase in the net short position (betting on lower prices) last week.
The latest refining casualty in a rapidly growing list: PREEM announced it was scrapping a $1.6 billion expansion at the Sweden’s largest refinery as the fallout from COVID made the project unviable economically.
An IEA report this morning highlights the growing role of carbon capture technologies in the race for clean energy.
The Financial Times is reporting that Trafigura – one of the world’s largest oil traders – announced a $2 billion investment in renewable projects. The company is also planning to set targets to reduce emissions from its existing operations, saying “We are going to set targets that are achievable...but I am not going to commit to something in 2050 that I am not around to deliver,” he said. “We will commit to something we can deliver on.”
After a few days with no storm systems in the Atlantic, the NHC is giving low (30%) odds of development to a system off the Eastern coast of central America. While the peak of the season is in the rearview mirror, it’s still expected we’ll see a few more storms in this extremely busy season before it ends November 30. As a reminder, Sandy was a Halloween storm.
Stock Markets Poised For Another Weekly Loss
Energy prices are stumbling out of the gate to start another trading session without much going on to drive the action, keeping price movements to a minimum. U.S. stock markets are poised for a fourth straight weekly loss, which has added to the downward pressure on energy prices (at least in terms of a negative sentiment about demand growth). That said, equity indices are looking much weaker on a technical basis than energy futures, which still need to break the low end of the summer trading range before we can call for the next bear market.
The forward curve charts below show petroleum prices have dropped in almost equal increments throughout the next three years, keeping the contango curve in place as expectations for a gradual recovery in global demand haven’t changed much during the past month.
While petroleum prices are stagnating, there’s been more exciting action in the renewable space this week. Prices for ethanol, biodiesel and their RINs all have dropped sharply along with crop prices as the U.S. harvest is looking very COVID resistant. Export demand remains questionable.
The Dallas Fed’s Energy survey showed that activity in the sector has continued to contract in Q3, albeit at a much slower pace than the previous quarters. The majority of responding companies anticipate that drilling activity won’t pick up substantially until WTI gets north of the $50 mark, a less optimistic view than in previous months, and also a reflection of the overhand of DUC wells in the region.
A WSJ article this morning estimates that California will need to expand its electric grid by 25% in the next 15 years to power the fleet of electric cars the governor has been encouraging. For a state already unable to keep up with power demand, the task seems to be out of reach. That said, the EIA this morning highlighted the dramatic change in the country’s power production over the past decade as the U.S. moves away from Coal-fired power. The FERC’s recent move allows end users access to wholesale electricity markets, diversifying the grid, as electric vehicles will be able to send their unused power back into the grid.
Shaky Financial Markets Winning The War?
Weak equity markets squared off with some bullish inventory data for control of the energy market price action Wednesday, and while the good fundamental news won the day, a weak start to Thursday’s action suggests that shaky financial markets may end up winning the war this fall.
Inventory drawdowns and strengthening demand in the weekly DOE report helped the energy complex turn small losses into modest gains on the day. U.S. gasoline stocks fell below year-on-year levels for the first time since COVID shutdowns started pummeling demand six months ago, in what many see as a major victory for refiners. Naysayers will point to a large drop in gasoline imports due to Atlantic storm activity slowing the flow of gasoline from Europe, and the upcoming seasonal demand slowdown as reasons this relatively balanced supply won’t last.
Diesel demand shot up 30% last week according to the DOE’s estimate, which helped inventories pull back from the brink of an all-time high. Export activity for products and crude oil remained steady, suggesting the port disruptions from the multiple storms along the gulf coast has had minimal impact on flows so far.
California’s governor took a page straight out of Atlas Shrugged when he signed an executive order to phase out the sale of gasoline-powered vehicles in the state by 2035. The statement also encouraged drivers to switch to electric cars saying, “Our cars shouldn't make wildfires worse.”
Perhaps he forgot about the thousands of California wildfires caused by electric transmission lines, or how that electricity is generated in the first place.
This is the same person who less than a year ago called for an investigation into why the state’s gasoline was so much more expensive than the rest of the country, failing to recognize the impact of more than $1/gallon in state taxes and fees that set the state apart from most of the country, or the boutique fuel grades mandated by CARB and other policies that continue to force refiners in the state to shut down.
Total is the latest refiner to announce plans to convert one of its facilities from crude oil to biofuels over the next two years. The notice also highlights the growing interest in bio/renewable plastics, which will become a more mainstream idea as the momentum for carbon reduction builds. The refining industry was already expected to produce more plastics than transportation fuels in the coming decades, so the pressure to find renewable options on that side of the output will be strong.
U.S. Targets China For Role In Climate Change
A large draw in gasoline stocks has RBOB futures trying to pull the rest of the energy complex higher to start Wednesday’s trade. From a technical perspective, petroleum futures continue to look like they’re on shaky ground after two days of selling wiped out most of last week’s gains, with a test of June’s lows looking likely as we head into the seasonal demand slowdown in the U.S.
The API was reported to show a draw of 7.7 million barrels of gasoline last week, a drop in diesel inventories of 2.1 million barrels, while crude stocks had a small build of 691 thousand barrels. The DOE’s weekly report is due out at its normal time this morning. Those draws in refined products are welcome news to beleaguered refiners, but could be short term anomalies given the numerous storm disruptions of the past week, rather than a sign of improving demand based on other reports.
China is claiming that it will take a leadership role in climate change with a pledge to be carbon neutral by 2060. The announcement with no detail as to how that will work came just hours after the U.S. targeted China for its current role in climate change as the world’s largest polluter.
The FERC has issued an order opening up wholesale electricity markets to distributed energy resources, which will give individual homes (rooftop solar panel and garage EV chargers) more competitive options, and opens the door for aggregators to harness unused energy from those homes to sell back into the market, which is seen as a “game changer” for the expansion of these technologies.
A pair of interesting reads from the Financial Times and WSJ: Why Saudi Arabia’s threat to oil speculators is easier said than done (AKA, it’s hard to teach an algorithm a lesson). The latest example of the energy industry’s remarkable ability to over-heal itself: The new glut of pipeline capacity in the Permian.
Beta and Teddy are both dissipating after reaching land, with minimal impact on energy supply as ports are already reopening. There are no other threats being tracked by the NHC expected to develop in the next five days.