Demand Fears Stronger Than Supply Fears

Market TalkFriday, Jun 14 2019
Heavy Selling In Energy Futures

Demand fears appear to be stronger than supply fears this week as energy prices stagnate even though it appears that the Iranian military has been placing bombs on oil tankers near the world’s most important shipping lane. The 2nd week of each month brings a data deluge as various global agencies publish their monthly reports, and this week’s theme was that oil demand is softening, and that appears to have kept buyers on the sidelines despite the drama playing out in the Gulf of Oman.

The battle of words between the US & Iran appears to be staying just that, which is a great relief for many – not just energy consumers – even as video evidence suggests a clear link to Iranian forces and yesterday’s tanker attacks. That lack of escalation – coupled with ongoing demand worries – tempered the market reaction to the attacks, with the big 4 petroleum contracts all still holding losses for the week. I would not be surprised to see a price rally this afternoon however as traders tend not to like being short heading into a weekend with this type of geopolitical tension looming.

The IEA’s monthly oil report was the third this week to note the negative effects of various trade issues on global oil demand. The report that demand growth in the first quarter grew at the slowest rate since the financial crisis, offsetting ongoing supply issues in Iran, Venezuela, Libya etc. While global demand continues to grow, OECD nations are seeing a decline in oil demand, with a petrochemical slowdown in Europe and “tepid” gasoline & diesel demand in the US both cited. The other particularly relevant point made in the monthly report was that the benefit of OPEC supply cuts is that it also increases the world’s spare production capacity.

With US production capabilities soaring, the total global spare oil production capacity may be at levels we haven’t seen in decades, and certainly appears to be acting as a speed bump for prices considering how they’ve barely moved even though the world’s most strategic waterway has hosted numerous ship attacks in the past 2 months.

The EIA reported yesterday that US crude imports from OPEC members dropped to a 30-year low in March.

The Dallas FED’s June energy indicator report showed that support activities for mining operations in Texas have fallen sharply as rig counts have dropped in the past few months. Like the monthly reports from the EIA, OPEC and IEA, this report also noted a slowdown in oil consumption across developed nations.

While petroleum prices are stagnating, corn and ethanol prices have reached multi-year highs this week as more heavy rain is forecast across the mid-continent, threatening to take this year’s crop progress from bad to worse.

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Market TalkFriday, May 24 2024

Selling Continues In Energy Markets After Thursday's Reversal Rally Ran Out Of Steam In The Afternoon

The selling continues in energy markets after Thursday’s reversal rally ran out of steam in the afternoon, following the lead of U.S. equity markets which had a big sell-off on the day. Prices haven’t yet fallen below the multi-month lows we saw early last week, but we’re just a couple of cents away from those levels, and the potential technical trapdoor that could lead to sharply lower values over the next couple of weeks.

We did see a brief spike in gasoline futures after the settlement Thursday following reports that Colonial had shut down Line 4 due to an IT issue, but those gains were short-lived as the pipeline was restarted without issue a few hours later. Those who remember the chaos of May 2021 after Colonial was hacked are breathing a sigh of relief, particularly on one of the busiest demand days of the year, while others are no doubt disappointed we won’t get to see the rash of fake photos of people filling up plastic bags with gasoline.

OPEC & Friends (AKA the DoC) announced they’re moving June’s policy meeting to a virtual-only affair, which the market is taking as a signal of the status quo being held on output cuts.

Chicago being Chicago: Tuesday’s 60-cent basis spike was officially wiped out by Thursday afternoon, suggesting the short-lived rally was just short covering in an illiquid market rather than a meaningful supply disruption.

RIN values continued their rally this week, touching a 4-month high at 59 cents/RIN for both D4 and D6 values Thursday. If you believe in technical analysis on something like RINs, you can see a “W” pattern formed on the charts, suggesting a run to the 80-cent range is coming if prices can get above 60. If you are more of a fundamentalist, then you’ll probably think this rally is probably more short-term short-covering by producers of RD who have changed their schedule buying back their RIN hedges for volume they’re no longer planning to produce.

NOAA issued its most aggressive Hurricane forecast ever Thursday, joining numerous other groups that think a La Nina pattern and record warm waters will create more and bigger storms this year. With the activity level seeming to be a foregone conclusion at this point, now it’s all about where those storms hit to know if this busy season will be a huge factor in energy supplies like we saw in 2005, 2008, 2012 and 2017. With the Houston area already being bombarded by floods and deadly wind this year, the refinery row across the U.S. Gulf Coast seems even more vulnerable than normal to the effects of a storm.

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Gasoline Prices Have Finally Found A Bid, Trading Up 3 Cents On The Day

Gasoline prices have finally found a bid, trading up 3 cents on the day after coming within a penny and a quarter of the multi-month lows set last week overnight. ULSD prices are also up a couple of cents in the early going after wiping out the gains they made last week. Both contracts are once again threatening a technical breakdown that could push prices another 20-30 cents lower if the current bounce isn’t sustained.

The EIA’s estimate for gasoline demand surged to a 7-month high last week, capping off a 4th straight week of gains that puts total consumption near the top end of the seasonal range after a very sluggish start to the year. AAA estimates that travel this Memorial Day weekend will approach a 20 year high with nearly 44 million people hitting the roads.

The EIA also published a note this morning showing average US gasoline prices are up 1% from last year, accompanied by a chart showing that average prices are down 7 cents/gallon from this time last year. The spread between retail gasoline prices on the West Coast vs the rest of the country continues to grow and is shown to be over $1.20/gallon thanks to Oregon and Washington’s Californication of their energy policies in recent years.

The EIA still seems to be struggling to figure out its accounting methods for crude oil inventories, with the adjustment factor that’s been creating all sorts of confusion the past couple of years flipping from a negative 200,000 barrels/day last week, to a positive 1.4 million barrels/day this week. You could give the EIA compilation crew a break and say that this reflects just how large and complex the US crude oil supply network is, or you could ask how did they suddenly “find” 10-million barrels of oil that they didn’t see last week.

Refiners are cranking up run rates, exceeding the levels we’ve seen this time of year in either of the past 2 years. Those higher run rates are added to the glut of diesel products that’s hanging over the majority of the country, and pushing rack spreads to levels we haven’t seen since the COVID lockdown in several markets.

The export market for US crude and refined products remains very busy with nearly 10 million barrels shipped out of the country every day. Refinery throughput was 16.2 million barrels/day last week, and more than 6 million barrels/day was exported even though gasoline and diesel exports have stagnated this year. The anticipated tick higher in US diesel exports following the rash of Russian refinery attacks has not materialized, which is no doubt contributing to the negative sentiment for diesel prices over the past month. The busy and growing export market for crude and other products also creates an interesting dynamic as we prepare for a busy hurricane season to kick off in a week as any disruption to infrastructure along the Gulf Coast could limit product going out of the country almost as much as it disrupts products flowing inland.

Basis values for RBOB in Chicago dropped 30 cents Wednesday after Tuesday’s 60 cent spike. It’s still unclear what if any impacts the confirmed fire at Exxon’s Joliet refinery, or the rumored upsets at BP’s Whiting facility have had on actual supply in the region, but the quick pullback suggests this is a flash in the pan rather than the start of a prolonged supply shortage.

Exxon reported a leak at its Beaumont TX Chemical plant, but it appears that upset isn’t impacting the operations at its adjacent refinery.

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