April Energy Futures Struggle To Finish Strong, Diesel Demand Remains Soft

Market TalkThursday, Apr 27 2023
Pivotal Week For Price Action

Energy futures are stumbling to the finish line with just 2 days left in April trading and most contracts hovering around their lowest levels of the month. 

US Oil inventories fell for a 4th week out of 5, despite more barrels being taken out of the SPR, and the EIA finding another 8 million barrels of oil in their adjustment figure last week.  Refinery runs and oil exports remain strong, and the oil production estimate dipped last week, which all contributed to that draw in stocks.

RBOB futures did see a healthy rebound off of their lows Wednesday after the EIA reported a strong demand estimate that helped pull inventories lower last week. That recovery bounce was short lived however and RBOB prices find themselves teetering on the edge of their weekly trend line once again this morning, and poised to drop below it once the June contract takes the prompt position next week, unless we get a nickel or more bounce in the last two days of trading for the month.

Diesel demand estimates continue to be very soft, consistent with the steady drumbeat of “freight recession” warnings that have been issued in recent weeks. While refiners are likely to report record earnings for a first quarter this week, that soft outlook for diesel, and the recent collapse in crack spreads that’s come with it, have created a much different outlook for the balance of the year.

ULSD prices have dropped to their lowest level since the first day of trading in 2022, with several spot markets reaching their lowest levels since December of 2021, despite the fact that diesel inventories remain at the bottom end of their seasonal range across all 5 PADDs included in the report. The PADD 5 figure is the most misleading however as the EIA figures are not yet capturing the rapid influx of renewable diesel into these figures, so actual commercial diesel inventories will be higher than the official figures.  

The EIA’s latest report on Biodiesel and Renewable diesel inventories showed a record high of 7.8 million barrels of combined inventory in the US as of January, but it does not break out biodiesel and RD stocks. It seems inevitable that the EIA will eventually include RD inventories in their weekly figures as they do with ethanol, particularly now that RD is moving along major pipeline systems in California, but that could still be years away given the glacial speed in which government agencies tend to move.

Speaking of which, you may note that PADD 3 refinery utilization rates look abnormally high.  You’d be correct in that assessment since the EIA’s data continues to report the actual output generated by Exxon’s new 250mb/day expansion in Beaumont but won’t report that as actual refining capacity which is artificially inflating the percentage utilization.

Side note, did you know there are actually 7 PADDs but the EIA doesn’t include 6 and 7 in its weekly reports? Also, did you know that a US congressperson once worried that one of PADD 7s islands might tip over and capsize? Can’t make that stuff up.

Click here to download a PDF of today's TACenergy Market Talk, including all charts from the Weekly DOE Report.

Market Talk Update 4.27.23

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Pivotal Week For Price Action
Market TalkFriday, Apr 12 2024

Charts Continue To Favor A Push Towards The $3 Mark For Gasoline, While Diesel Prices May Need To Be Dragged Along For The Ride

Energy prices are rallying once again with the expected Iranian attack on Israel over the weekend appearing to be the catalyst for the move. RBOB gasoline futures are leading the way once again, trading up more than a nickel on the day to reach a fresh 7 month high at $2.8280. Charts continue to favor a push towards the $3 mark for gasoline, while diesel prices may need to be dragged along for the ride.

So far it appears that Motiva Pt. Arthur is the only refinery that experienced a noteworthy upset from the storms that swept across the southern half of the country this week. Those storms also delayed the first round of the Masters, which matters more to most traders this week than the refinery upset.

Chevron’s El Segundo refinery in the LA-area reported an unplanned flaring event Thursday, but the big moves once again came from the San Francisco spot market that saw diesel prices rally sharply to 25 cent premiums to futures. The Bay Area now commands the highest prices for spot gasoline and diesel as the conversion of 1 out of the 4 remaining refineries to renewable output is not-surprisingly creating disruptions in the supply chain.

RIN values dropped back below the 50-cent mark, after the recovery rally ran out of steam last week. The EPA is facing numerous legal challenges on the RFS and other policies, and now half of the US states are challenging the agency’s new rule restricting soot emissions. That lack of clarity on what the law actually is or may be is having widespread impacts on environmental credits around the world and makes enforcement of such policies a bit of a joke. Speaking of which, the EPA did just fine a South Carolina company $2.8 million and require that it buy and retire 9 million RINs for improper reporting from 2013-2019. The cost of those RINs now is about 1/3 of what it was this time last year, so slow playing the process definitely appears to have paid off in this case.

The IEA continues to do its best to downplay global demand for petroleum, once again reducing its economic outlook in its Monthly Report even though the EIA and OPEC continue to show growth, and the IEA’s own data shows “Robust” activity in the first quarter of the year. The IEA has come under fire from US lawmakers for changing its priorities from promoting energy security, to becoming a cheerleader for energy transition at the expense of reality.

Click here to download a PDF of today's TACenergy Market Talk.

Pivotal Week For Price Action
Market TalkThursday, Apr 11 2024

Diesel Prices Continue To Be The Weak Link In The Energy Chain

Energy prices are ticking modestly lower this morning, despite warnings from the US that an Iranian attack on Israeli interest is “imminent” and reports of weather induced refinery outages, as demand fears seem to be outweighing supply fears temporarily. Diesel prices continue to be the weak link in the energy chain with both the DOE and OPEC reports giving the diesel bears reason to believe lower prices are coming.

The March PPI report showed a lower inflation reading for producers than the Consumer Price Index report, leading to an immediate bounce in equity futures after the big wave of selling we saw yesterday. To put the CPI impact in perspective, a week ago Fed Fund futures were pricing in an 80% chance of an interest rate cut by the FED’s July 31 meeting, and today those odds have shrunk to 40% according to the CME’s FedWatch tool.

OPEC’s monthly oil market report held a steady outlook for economic growth and oil demand from last month’s report, noting the healthy momentum of economic activity in the US. The cartel’s outlook also highlighted significant product stock increases last month that weighed heavily on refining margins, particularly for diesel. Given the US focus on ULSD futures that are deliverable on the East Coast, which continues to have relatively tight supply for diesel, it’s easy to overlook how quickly Asian markets have gotten long on distillates unless of course you’re struggling through the slog of excess supply in numerous west coast markets these days. The OPEC report noted this in a few different ways, including a 33% decline in Chinese product exports as the region simply no longer needs its excess. The cartel’s oil output held steady during March with only small changes among the countries as they hold to their output cut agreements.

If you believe the DOE’s diesel demand estimates, there’s reason to be concerned about domestic consumption after a 2nd straight week of big declines. The current estimate below 3 million barrels/day is something we typically only see the week after Christmas when many businesses shut their doors. We know the DOE’s figures are missing about 5% of total demand due to Renewable Diesel not being included in the weekly stats, and it’s common to see a drop the week after a holiday, but to lose more than a million barrels/day of consumption in just 2 weeks will keep some refiners on edge.

Most PADDs continue to follow their seasonal trends on gasoline with 1 and 2 still in their normal draw down period, while PADD 3 is rebuilding inventories faster than normal following the transition to summer grade products. That rapid influx of inventory in PADD 3 despite robust export activity helps explain the spike in premiums to ship barrels north on Colonial over the past 2 weeks. Gasoline also saw a sizeable drop in its weekly demand estimate, but given the holiday hangover effect, and the fact that it’s in line with the past 2 years, there’s not as much to be concerned about with that figure. While most of the activity happens in PADDs 1-3, the biggest disconnect is coming in PADDs 4 and 5, with gasoline prices in some Colorado markets being sold 50 cents or more below futures, while prices in some California markets are approaching 90 cents above futures.

Severe weather sweeping across the southern US knocked several units offline at Motiva’s Pt Arthur plant (the country’s largest refinery) Wednesday, and it seems likely that Louisiana refineries will see some disruption from the storm that spawned tornadoes close to the Mississippi River refining hub. So far cash markets haven’t reacted much, but they’ll probably need more time to see what damage may have occurred.

Click here to download a PDF of today's TACenergy Market Talk, including all charts from the Weekly DOE Report.

Pivotal Week For Price Action
Market TalkWednesday, Apr 10 2024

Week 14 - US DOE Inventory Recap