Energy Futures Taking A Post-Holiday Breather

Market TalkMonday, Nov 30 2020
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After rallying to 8 month highs ahead of Thanksgiving, energy futures are taking a post-holiday breather, with small losses this morning on top of minor drops seen in the combined trading session from Thursday and Friday. This type of pullback was overdue after the 30%+ November rally, with several short term technical indicators moving into over-sold territory last week. It’s too soon to call an end to the rally however as the upward trend lines are still intact, and we’ll need to see products drop by another nickel before this move will start looking like a reversal instead of just a short term correction.

It’s the last trading day for November product futures, and since spot markets weren’t assessed Thursday or Friday, there’s bound to be a little confusion as to the actual price changes expected at the racks this evening. For markets like the Gulf & West coasts hat have already rolled to trading against January futures, it’s looking like 1.5 cent combined drops in futures (roughly 1/2 cent from last week, a penny from this morning) while those still trading vs December futures like the NYH and Group 3 spot markets are on pace for slightly larger declines. 

OPEC & Friends are officially meeting today to discuss output plans, after informal weekend meetings struggled to figure out a way to factor in rapidly rising Libyan output that’s offsetting a large portion of the current agreement to limit production.   

S&P Global (FKA Mcgraw Hill) the parent company of Platts, is reported to be in advanced talks to acquire IHS Markit, the parent company of OPIS. You may recall a decade ago when Platts tried to acquire OPIS directly, and was met with a flurry of objection from the energy industry before the deal was canceled. No doubt we’ll see a similar backlash now to the combination of 2 of the 3 major pricing platforms in US petroleum spot markets (not to mention numerous other competing services across industries held by these two giant companies) but given the enormous size of the deal ($44 billion), it seems like only federal trade commission rulings will be enough to stop the transaction. 

The latest refining casualty: Neste announced it would shutter its Nanntali Finland refinery in the first quarter of 2021 in an effort to save costs and focus operations on other facilities. 

A new facility on the chopping block?  The Suncor refinery in Denver, already beleaguered by numerous operational upsets on top of the weak margin environment, is now facing the risk of shutdown as state regulators consider not renewing its operating permits due to environmental concerns.

Rystad Energy report suggests that despite the rash of refinery shutdowns announced this year – 28 so far – capacity additions will still outpace closures globally forcing utilization rates to stay at relatively low levels. A move to replace older, smaller facilities with larger, more efficient plants is driving the net increase in capacity that’s expected to change several emerging market countries from importers to exporters of refined products.

Baker Hughes reported 10 more oil rigs were put to work last week, bringing the total US oil rig count to its highest level in 6 months. The Permian basin account for half of the weekly increase, while the Eagle Ford shale added 3 more rigs on the week.

The CFTC’s commitment of traders report is delayed until later today due to the Thanksgiving holiday, but the ICE report suggests large speculators are jumping back on the energy bandwagon as prices rally. Money Managers made large additions in net length held Brent and Gasoil contracts for a 2nd straight week. The increase in Brent net length was driven by new longs entering the market (betting on higher prices) whereas the move in gasoil was primarily driven by previous shorts getting out of the way.

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TACenergy MarketTalk Update 113020

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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.

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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.

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