Concerns Over Refinery Issues Seemed To Be The Major Theme That Sparked The Rush Of Panic Buying Friday

Market TalkMonday, Aug 28 2023
Pivotal Week For Price Action

Energy prices are coming back to reality this morning after a runaway Friday rally got a bit out of control. ULSD futures led the way in both directions, adding 15 cents Friday to hit a new 7 month high at $3.3355, before pulling back by 7 cents this morning as cooler heads seem to be prevailing. Despite that pullback, the strong finish last week keeps the door open for a rally towards the 2023 high of $3.58 as long as prices can sustain their move north of $3.20 this week.

Concerns over refinery issues seemed to be the major theme that sparked the rush of panic buying Friday, although the forecast of a Hurricane reaching the Gulf of Mexico probably didn’t hurt even though it’s not a threat to most energy infrastructure.

The big story was a tank fire at Marathon’s 596mb/day plant in Garyville LA, which is the 3rd largest refinery in the country.  Even though the fire was in a storage tank, and not an operating unit, the reports that operations were temporarily suspended as a precaution created a flurry of buying activity just before the settlement Friday. Terminal operations at the plant resumed Friday evening which suggests the fire will not have a lasting impact on operations, which goes a long way to explain the pullback in prices this morning.

Meanwhile, two of the TCEQ frequent flyers both reported upsets Friday. The Valero Mckee refinery reported flaring after a power loss Friday afternoon, which occurred as the facility was attempting to finalize repairs after an upset earlier this month. Marathon’s Galveston Bay facility continues to struggle to go even 1 week without some sort of mishap, this time reporting a fuel oil leak inside a containment dike. Exxon reported an upset at an FCC unit in its Beaumont TX facility overnight that caused brief flaring, but no reported unit shutdowns.  

While the headlines were focused on Gulf Coast activities, the biggest price moves Friday were on the West Coast. Both LA and SF diesel basis saw big increases that pushed differentials and outright prices to their highest levels of the year even though the other US spot markets shrugged off the refinery news.

Tropical Storm Idalia formed off the Yucatan peninsula over the weekend and is expected to become a major hurricane before making landfall near Florida’s big bend early Wednesday morning. The storm is far enough east as it moves quickly through the Gulf of Mexico that it’s not a major threat to oil production and refining assets, although we can expect precautionary shutdowns of some offshore wells the next 2 days. 

Unlike last year’s Hurricane Ian, which spared the Tampa Bay area with a late shift in its path, this storm looks like it will keep Tampa on the eastern side meaning it will be pushing water inland which could be trouble for the terminals around the bay which are right on the water’s edge. Unfortunately, another type of storm at a local terminal has complicated efforts to fill up customer tanks ahead of this system. 

Hurricane Franklin has reached Major hurricane status this morning but is staying roughly 500 miles off of the East Coast as it makes its way north and does not appear to be a direct threat to land, although its high winds and waves could cause some challenges for vessels in the area. There’s another storm system given 50% odds of developing this week by the NHC off the West Coast of Africa, but it looks like it will be far enough north that it should stay out to sea.

Money managers reduced their speculative length (bets on higher prices) on most energy contracts last week with WTI, Brent, RBOB and Gasoil contracts all seeing declines. ULSD prices were the exception with new length added and old shorts reduced, pushing net length up by 17% on the week to a 22-month high. Open interest in refined products continues to increase with ULSD positions now at their highest level in 18-months.

Baker Hughes reported another large decline in the US drilling rig count with a net decrease of 8 oil rigs and 2 natural gas rigs last week. That decline brings the total count to a fresh 18 month low.

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Market Talk Update 08.28.2023

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Pivotal Week For Price Action
Market TalkFriday, Sep 22 2023

Energy Markets Are Ticking Modestly Higher This Morning But Remain Well Off The Highs Set Early Thursday

Energy markets are ticking modestly higher this morning but remain well off the highs set early Thursday following the reports that Russia was temporarily banning most refined product exports.  

The law of government intervention and unintended consequences: Russian officials claim the export ban is an effort to promote market stability, and right on cue, its gasoline prices plummeted a not-so-stable 10% following the news. 

There’s a saying that bull markets don’t end due to bad news, they end when the market stops rallying on good news. It’s possible that if ULSD futures continue lower after failing to sustain yesterday’s rally, or this morning’s, we could be seeing the end of the most recent bull run. That said, it’s still much too soon to call the top here, particularly with a steepening forward curve leaving prices susceptible to a squeeze, and the winter-demand months still ahead of us. Short term we need to see ULSD hold above $3.30 next week to avoid breaking its weekly trend line.

The sell-off in RIN values picked up steam Thursday, with 2023 D4 and D6 values dropping to the $1.02 range before finally finding a bid later in the session and ending the day around $1.07.   

Tropical Storm Ophelia is expected to be named today, before making landfall on the North Carolina coast tomorrow. This isn’t a major storm, and there aren’t any refineries in its path, so it’s unlikely to do much to disrupt supply, but it will dump heavy rain several of the major East Coast markets so it will likely hamper demand through the weekend. The other storm system being tracked by the NHC is now given 90% odds of being named next week, but its predicted path has shifted north as it moves across the Atlantic, which suggests it is more likely to stay out to sea like Nigel did than threaten either the Gulf or East Coasts.

Exxon reported an upset at its Baytown refinery that’s been ongoing for the past 24 hours.  It’s still unclear which units are impacted by this event, and whether or not it will have meaningful impacts on output. Total’s Pt Arthur facility also reported an upset yesterday, but that event lasted less than 90 minutes. Like most upsets in the region recently, traders seem to be shrugging off the news with gulf coast basis values not moving much. 

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

Pivotal Week For Price Action
Market TalkThursday, Sep 21 2023

The Yo-Yo Action In Diesel Continues With Each Day Alternating Between Big Gains And Big Losses So Far This Week

The yo-yo action in diesel continues with each day alternating between big gains and big losses so far this week. Today’s 11-cent rally is being blamed on reports that Russia is cutting exports of refined products effective immediately. It’s been a while since Russian sabre rattling has driven a noticeable price move in energy futures, after being a common occurrence at the start of the war. Just like tweets from our prior President however, these types of announcements seem to have a diminishing shelf-life, particularly given how the industry has adapted to the change in Russian export flows, so don’t be surprised if the early rally loses steam later today. 

The announcement also helped gasoline prices rally 5-cents off of their overnight lows, and cling to modest gains just above a penny in the early going. Before the announcement, RBOB futures were poised for a 5th straight day of losses.

IF the export ban lasts, that would be good news for US refiners that have seen their buyers in south American countries – most notably Brazil – reduce their purchases in favor of discounted barrels from Russia this year

US refinery runs dropped below year-ago levels for the first time in 6 weeks, with PADDS 1, 2 and 3 all seeing large declines at the start of a busy fall maintenance schedule.  Oil inventories continued to decline, despite the drop-in run rates and a big increase in the adjustment factor as oil exports surged back north of 5 million barrels/day. Keep in mind that as recently as 2011 the US only produced 5 million barrels of oil every day, and exports were mostly banned until 2016, so to be sending this many barrels overseas is truly a game changer for the global market.

Chicken or the egg?  Cushing OK oil stocks dropped below year-ago levels for the first time since January last week, which may be caused by the return of backwardation incenting shippers to lower inventory levels, the shift to new WTI Midland and Houston contracts as the export market expands.  Of course, the low inventory levels are also blamed for causing the backwardation in crude oil prices, and the shift to an export market may keep inventories at the NYMEX hub lower for longer as fewer shippers want to go inland with their barrels.

Refined product inventories remain near the bottom end of their seasonal ranges, with a healthy recovery in demand after last week’s holiday hangover helping keep stocks in check.  The biggest mover was a large jump in PADD 5 distillates, which was foreshadowed by the 30 cent drop in basis values the day prior.   The big story for gasoline on the week was a surge in exports to the highest level of the year, which is helping keep inventories relatively tight despite the driving season having ended 2 weeks ago.

As expected, the FED held rates yesterday, but the open market committee also included a note that they expected to raise rates one more time this year, which sparked a selloff in equity markets that trickled over into energy prices Wednesday afternoon. The correlation between energy and equities has been non-existent of late, and already this morning we’re seeing products up despite equities pointing lower, so it doesn’t look like the FOMC announcement will have a lasting impact on fuel prices this time around.

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, Sep 20 2023

Week 38- US DOE Inventory Recap