Diesel Futures Are Trying To Lead The Energy Complex Higher To Start The Week

Market TalkMonday, Dec 12 2022
Pivotal Week For Price Action

Diesel futures are trying to lead the energy complex higher to start the week, while gasoline prices are dragging modestly lower after touching new lows for the year overnight. 

After 6 straight weeks of selling that have knocked more than $1.90/gallon out of prompt futures prices, ULSD contracts are finding a bid this morning as a major winter storm sweeps the country, and offers another reminder that the world is still short on heating supplies. This storm could prove to be an ultimately bearish factor for many parts of the country however as fewer and fewer people still heat their homes with distillates, and many vehicles may be forced to stay off the roads this week. This week’s action could prove pivotal technically for ULSD, as a layer of chart support around $2.76 that formed last week could be the springboard for the next big rally, or could lead to a slide towards $2.20 in the next 2-3 months if it breaks.  

The big drop in refined product prices over the past 6 weeks has pushed crack spreads to their lowest levels since January, and may encourage some refiners to cut back on the unusually strong run rates we’ve seen over the past few weeks. 

RBOB gasoline futures touched a new low for the year overnight at $2.02, marking a $1/gallon drop from their October highs. Unlike heating oil, gasoline contracts don’t have the benefit of any seasonal factors with less than 2 weeks left before Christmas, and the big plunge in demand that follows.

Crude oil prices continue to shrug off the Keystone pipeline spill news, as that appears to have been contained, and other delivery options appear to be able to spread the load short term. 

Money managers saw a big decline in their net length held in refined product contracts last week with ULSD, Gasoil and RBOB contracts all seeing notable liquidations of long positions and distillates also seeing new shorts being added. Crude oil contracts were mixed on the week, with WTI seeing a modest increase in speculative length, while Brent saw a small decline. The sigh of relief over European energy supplies can be seen in the Brent and Gasoil figures which are both seeing 2/3 less bets on higher prices now than they were this time last year, while the general lack of speculative enthusiasm for energy contracts despite historically low supplies is seen as another sign of the looming economic recession

Open interest in Brent and ULSD contracts fell to a fresh 6+ year low last week as the combination of volatility and increased margin requirements, which are exacerbated by higher interest rates, continues to keep some traders on the sidelines. 

Baker Hughes reported a decline of 2 oil rigs, and 2 natural gas rigs drilling in the US last week as the industry continues to show restraint in its attempts to raise output. The relative lack of drilling investment was called “Un-American” by a White House appointee over the weekend, in the  same interview the advisor highlighted the goal of shrinking energy demand.

The IEA released a report last week highlighting how energy security concerns have accelerated investment in renewable energy options, with the next 5 years expected to witness as much new renewable electricity brought online as we’ve seen over the past 20 years. Meanwhile, a major breakthrough in fusion energy technology will be announced this week as a big step towards clean energy alternatives, even though the technology is likely many years away from widespread commercial use.

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Market Talk Update 12.12.2022

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Pivotal Week For Price Action
Market TalkFriday, Feb 3 2023

Weakness in Diesel Prices, Soft Demand in Focus

ULSD futures have dropped 80 cents in 9 days as the market has acted as if it’s only worried about a slowdown in demand, and not so much the lingering concerns about supply. After the January lows acted like nothing more than a speed bump this week, the next target on the charts is the December lows around $2.78, roughly 10 cents below the lows set this morning. That is about the only thing on the charts standing in the way of a drop to the $2.50 range, although we’re set up for at least a short-term bounce after this latest wave of selling.

It’s worth noting that the big physical players aren’t figuratively buying the selling in futures, and are instead literally buying up prompt barrels, and keeping cash prices for distillates above their January lows so far. The relaxation of backwardation seems to be playing a part in the stronger basis differentials in the front of the curve, and markets in the Midwest that had been trading 40-50 cents below futures during the winter doldrums are now only seeing single digit discounts. 

A record-setting cold snap in the Northeast US would typically be cause for at least a brief jump in diesel futures, but the severe weather forecast this weekend is apparently seen as too little, too late, and too short to offset the much warmer than normal winter that has curbed heating demand and alleviated so many concerns about another supply crunch last fall. That doesn’t mean this storm won’t come without challenges, as vessel delays, freezing equipment and power outages are all still a possibility, but since temps will be back in the 40s by Sunday, that may be an afterthought by Monday morning.

The January payroll report smashed most expectations, with more than 517,000 jobs added during the month. That good news for the economy could end up being bad news for markets that had rallied the past couple of days in hopes that the FED might take it easy on the tightening. 

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Pivotal Week For Price Action
Market TalkThursday, Feb 2 2023

Diesel Prices Collapse, Return To December Levels

Diesel prices led another big wave of selling to start February trading Wednesday and are following through with lower prices again this morning. A combination of bearish technical and fundamental factors seem to be at play with the plunging diesel prices that have wiped out half of the impressive gains in refining margins since prices bottomed out 2 months ago.

The move also came despite a big drop in the US dollar and surging equity prices after the Fed Chair’s press conference Wednesday which was apparently viewed through rose colored glasses by the easy money crowd. 

It took 12 trading days for ULSD prices to rally from $2.92 to $3.58 in January, but just 6 to give all 66 cents back. Sellers wasted little time once the weekly trendlines broke Wednesday completing the cycle and pushing prices right back to the $2.92 range. This sets up a potentially pivotal test for the balance of the week, with a break and hold below the January lows setting the stage for a run at the December lows of $2.76, while a hold here could set up a period of sideways trading within the confines of the January range. 

B100 prices have also dropped around 70 cents/gallon over the past week as bio blends race lower to stay competitive with the sudden drop in diesel prices.  Adding to the challenge for bio-blenders that sell a $6 fuel in a $3 diesel market are RIN values that have seen their first significant selling in 2 months, lowering the subsidy for blending those fuels, while LCFS credits remain stuck in the low $60s which is less than 1/3 of where they were 2 years ago. 

Speaking of government subsidies influence on bio-fuels, the largest renewable diesel producer in the US announced plans to shift direction and make its next major investment in Sustainable Aviation Fuels as the latest blenders tax credit package offers up to a 75 cent advantage for SAF blenders vs RD and Biodiesel, while all 3 fuels will be competing for the same feedstocks. 

Refinery runs dipped last week as a large reduction in PADD 5 (west coast) runs offset a large increase in PADD 2 (Midwest). The PADD 5 run rate fell to a 2 year low following several unplanned events coinciding with the annual spring maintenance season as facilities tool up to produce summer grade gasoline. We had already seen San Francisco spot gasoline differentials jump nearly 40 cents/gallon over the past week, and LA spots followed suit Wednesday, jumping to a 3-month high north of 36 cents over futures.

The DOE’s weekly report showed inventories continuing to build despite the dip in refinery runs, with distillate demand the ugly number on the week. Even though diesel inventories remain uncomfortably low across most regions, days of supply are approaching average levels thanks to a very weak start to the year for diesel consumers. There’s no doubt that unseasonably warm winter weather on the East Coast (prior to this weekend anyway) has contributed to that weak demand, and the weeks of rain on the West Coast certainly didn’t help, but gauging the market’s reaction, there’s also some fear that the slump in diesel demand is an indicator of slowing economic activity. 

Gasoline demand meanwhile saw a healthy increase for a 3rd straight week, but continues to hold below the 5-year average, and has only outpaced 2022 numbers 1 out of 4 weeks so far this year. Gasoline exports remain near the top end of their 5-year range, while distillate exports have been steady near the 5-year average so far this year. The severe weather that swept the gulf coast refinery zone may have limited the exports over the past two weeks however, so don’t be surprised to see a big drawdown if there’s a backlog of ships that clears in February. 

More bad news for Colorado. Yesterday the Suncor refinery reported a leak, which is impressive considering it hasn’t been operating since the Christmas blizzard, which will no doubt add time and headaches to their repair process. Then overnight the P66 refinery in Borger TX, which has pipeline access to supply Colorado, was said to shut units for at least the 3rd time since being damaged by that same storm. 

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, Feb 1 2023

New Month Sees New Downward Pressure, Market Awaits EIA Report & OPEC Meeting

After a week of heavy selling, refined products had an emphatic recovery rally to end January’s trading, only to start February off on their heels once again. ULSD prices bounced 15 cents off of Tuesday’s low trade, earning back roughly 20% of the losses seen in the previous 5 sessions, and keeping the upward trendline started back in December intact. 

Both products pulled back in the overnight session after the API reported more inventory builds across the board last week. Oil inventories were said to increase by 6.3 million barrels, while gasoline stocks were up 2.7 million and distillates were up 1.5 million. The rise in oil inventories is likely a sign that refinery runs remain below expected levels for a 6th week following the Christmas blizzard and several other unplanned maintenance events. The fact that refined products continue to build despite those slower refinery runs is likely a sign that demand remains in the winter doldrums, although it’s impossible to say how much is caused by the parade of winter storms, and how much is a sign of a slowing economy.

The EIA’s weekly report is due out at its normal time this morning, and should give us a good update on the status of refinery output. Speaking of which, Exxon noted in its earnings call that the Beumont refinery expansion is on pace to bring another 250mb/day of output online in Q1, which is the largest increase in capacity in a decade for the US, and the first of more than 200mb in 4 years. That’s great news for those hoping to see some relief in the supply network this year, but the bad news is that we’re expected to lose another 250mb/day later this year when the Houston Refining facility is shuttered, and another 130mb/day early in 2024 when P66 converts its Rodeo CA facility to RD production 

OPEC & Friends are meeting today to discuss their output quotas. That meeting has been largely dismissed by many in the market since it’s being held virtually, which has become a symbol that the cartel is not planning to make any changes to its agreements. In addition OPEC’s president is making it clear that they want to see more data on production and consumption before deciding on a policy change.

San Francisco gasoline prices were already the most expensive in the country after a basis rally last week to a 30 cent premium vs futures as the West Coast begins the spring RVP transition. Bay Area basis values jumped again Tuesday after reports of a fire at the Martinez refinery, although later it was suggested that fire would not impact operations at the plant as it occurred out equipment that was no longer in service.   

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