Diesel Bulls: A Major Cold Front is About To Sweep Across The Country, Which Will Certainly Stir Up Some Heating Demand

Market TalkFriday, Oct 27 2023
Pivotal Week For Price Action

Energy futures were jumping again overnight after US fighter jets hit Iranian-tied military targets in Syria, and the deal to lift sanctions in Venezuela already looks like it might be falling apart.

While the bulls have the early momentum, this latest in a series of rallies tied to fears of supply disruptions seems to be lacking the enthusiasm of earlier versions, and we’ll need to see another 8-10 cents of gains from refined products to break the downward trend on the weekly charts. 

What a difference a week makes: If you needed ULSD in the Group 3 market last Friday, you needed to pay $1.05-$1.15/gallon premium over the November Futures contract to hit an offer. Today, those same barrels are being offered for a $.01 discount. While much less dramatic, we have seen steady selling in most other regional basis markets as well as physical traders are having to offer lower differentials to overcome the backwardation in futures. One hope for the diesel bulls: A major cold front is about to sweep across the country with 30-40 degree temperature drops forecast, which will certainly stir up some heating demand.

We continue so see stronger values for space on Colonial pipeline as Gulf Coast refiners seem to be having a hard time moving their excess supply. Both Line 1 and 2 values reached their highest levels of the year this week, as lower basis values for both gasoline and diesel along the Gulf Coast opens up the arbitrage window to ship barrels to New York. It’s not uncommon to see stronger line space values throughout the winter months as the weak demand season puts downward pressure on Gulf Coast values. This year the added element of major turnarounds at 2 East Coast refineries is likely contributing to the early strength as well.

Ethanol prices were already coming under pressure this week following weakness in the corn market, and that selling accelerated after the DOE’s weekly report showed a jump in ethanol inventory and production. Values are once again hovering near 2-year lows as we head into what are traditionally the weaker months for demand which could put more downside pressure on alcohol prices.

Q3 earnings releases have been a mixed bag so far, with a general theme of healthy profits that are a far cry from last year’s record setting figures.  

Valero beat estimates as its refineries ran at 95% of capacity for the quarter and were able to capitalize on downtime at other facilities. The company’s renewable diesel operations saw nearly a 25% increase in volume from year ago levels, but profits were nearly cut in half as the drop in RIN and LCFS credits took a bite out of earnings. On the flip side, their ethanol earnings surged to nearly $200 million in the quarter from break even a year ago.  

P66 also had a strong showing with $1.7 of the total $2.1 billion in earnings from the quarter coming from its refining operations, although those results were below many wall street estimates

Exxon noted $2.4 billion in refining-related earnings for the quarter, up substantially from Q2 as its new Beaumont units helped the company hit record throughput rates along with strengthening crack spreads. An interesting bullet point in the Exxon earnings release was a negative mark-to-market impact on its trading operations, which will raise questions as the company’s relatively new strategy to leverage its trading expertise appears to be disappointing so far. 

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

Market Talk Update 10.27.2023

News & Views

View All
Pivotal Week For Price Action
Market TalkThursday, Feb 22 2024

Week 7 - US DOE Inventory Recap

Pivotal Week For Price Action
Market TalkThursday, Feb 22 2024

RBOB And ULSD Futures Down Around 2.5 Cents After A Mixed Performance Wednesday

Refined products are leading the energy complex lower to start Thursday’s trading with both RBOB and ULSD futures down around 2.5 cents after a mixed performance Wednesday.

The API reported another large build in crude oil inventories last week, with inventories up more than 7 million barrels while gasoline inventories increased by 415,000 barrels and diesel stocks dropped by 2.9 million. The crude oil build was no doubt aided once again by the shutdown of BP’s Whiting refinery that takes nearly ½ million barrels/day of oil demand out of the market. That facility is said to be ramping up operations this week, while full run rates aren’t expected again until March. The DOE’s weekly report will be out at 11am eastern this morning.

Too much or not enough? Tuesday there were reports that the KM pipeline system in California was forced to shut down two-line segments and cut batches in a third due to a lack of storage capacity as heavy rains have sapped demand in the region. Wednesday there were new reports that some products ran out of renewable diesel because of those pipeline delays, bringing back memories of the early COVID lockdown days when an excess of gasoline caused numerous outages of diesel.

The Panama Canal Authority has announced $8.5 billion in sustainability investments planned for the next 5 years. Most of those funds are aimed at sustainability efforts like modernizing equipment and installing solar panels, while around $2 billion is intended for a better water management system to combat the challenges they’ve faced with lower water levels restricting transit by 50% or more in the past year. More importantly in the near term, forecasts for the end of the El Nino pattern that contributed to a record drought, and the beginning of a La Nina pattern that tends to bring more rain to the region are expected to help improve water levels starting this summer.

The bad news is that La Nina pattern, coupled with historically warm water temperature has Accuweather forecasters sounding “Alarm Bells” over a “supercharged” hurricane season this year. Other years with a similar La Nina were 2005 which produced Katrina, Rita and Wilma and 2020 when we ran out of names, and the gulf Coast was repeatedly pummeled but markets didn’t react much due to the COVID demand slump. Perhaps most concerning for the refining industry is that unlike the past couple of years when Florida had the bullseye, the Texas coast is forecast to be at higher risk this year.

RIN prices continued their slide Wednesday morning, trading down to 38 cents/RIN before finally finding a bid that pushed values back to the 41-42 cent range by the end of the day.

The huge slide in RIN values showed up as a benefit in Suncor’s Q4 earnings report this morning, as the Renewable Volume Obligation for the company dropped to $4.75/barrel vs $8.55/barrel in Q4 of 2022. Based on the continued drop so far in 2024, expect that obligation to be nearly cut in half again. Suncor continued the trend of pretty much every other refiner this quarter, showing a dramatic drop in margins from the record-setting levels in 2022, but unlike a few of its counterparts over the past week was able to maintain positive earnings. The company noted an increase in refining runs after recovering from the Christmas Eve blizzard in 2022 that took down its Denver facility for months but did not mention any of the environmental challenges that facility is facing.

Valero’s McKee refinery reported a flaring event Wednesday that impacted multiple unites and lasted almost 24 hours. Meanwhile, Total reported more flaring at its Pt Arthur facility as that plant continues to struggle through restart after being knocked offline by the January deep freeze.

Speaking of which, the US Chemical Safety board released an update on its investigation into the fire at Marathon’s Martinez CA renewable diesel plant last November, noting how the complications of start -up leave refineries of all types vulnerable.

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

Pivotal Week For Price Action
Market TalkWednesday, Feb 21 2024

It’s A Mixed Start For Energy Markets To Start Wednesday’s Session After A Heavy Round Of Selling Tuesday

It’s a mixed start for energy markets to start Wednesday’s session after a heavy round of selling Tuesday. RBOB gasoline futures are clinging to modest gains in the early going while the rest of the complex is moving lower.  

WTI is pulling back for a 2nd day after reaching a 3.5 month high just shy of $80. The pullback pushes prompt values back below the 200-day moving average, reducing the likelihood of a breakout to the upside near term.

ULSD values are down nearly 10 cents for the week and are down more than 26 cents from the high trade set February 9th. That pullback leaves ULSD in neutral territory and could act as a headwind for gasoline prices that still seem poised to at least attempt a typical spring rally that adds roughly 20-30% from winter values.

RIN prices continue their slide this week, with D6 and D4 values reaching new 4-year lows around $.41/RIN Tuesday, which is down just slightly from the $1.62/RIN they were going for a year ago.

HF Sinclair reported a loss for Q4 this morning, with its refining and renewables segments each losing roughly $75 million for the quarter. The change from a year ago in the refining segment is a harsh reminder of the cyclical nature of the business as earnings dropped more than $800 million year on year, with inventory cost adjustments accounting for roughly ¼ of that decline.   

While it wasn’t mentioned in the press release, HFS has the most direct exposure to New Mexico’s recent approval of a clean fuel standard that will start in 2026. That law will no doubt help the company’s struggling Renewables assets in the state but will also create extra costs for their traditional refining operations.

The EIA this morning noted that conditions in the Panama Canal improved slightly in January, allowing Gulf Coast exports to Asia, primarily of Propane and ethane, to increase. While transit capacity is still far below levels we saw before the drought reduced operations in the canal, any improvement offers welcome relief to shippers as they can avoid going the long-way around to avoid the violence in the Red Sea.

France’s navy didn’t waste any time getting into the Red Sea action, shooting down a pair of Houthi Drones less than a day after joining the EU’s official mission to assist in clearing the shipping lanes. It’s not yet clear whether this marks the first official military victory by the French since Napoleon. 

Reminder that the weekly inventory reports are delayed a day due to the holiday Monday.

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