Energy Markets Are Off To Another Quiet Start Thursday

Market TalkThursday, Nov 3 2022
Pivotal Week For Price Action

Energy markets are off to another quiet start Thursday with modest losses in the early going after some bullish data points from the DOE helped push prices higher on Wednesday.

Stock markets have reacted negatively to the FOMC chair’s press conference Wednesday in which he made it clear that a pivot is not coming and that rates will go higher than previously expected to stomp out inflation. The correlation between daily moves in equity and energy prices has ticked higher in the past couple of weeks so some of that negative outlook seems to be spilling over into the energy arena as well. 

Coastal Extremes: While the East Coast has received plenty of attention for tight diesel supplies (and a particular panicked supplier’s color coding) over the past few weeks, and ULSD basis values in NYH are north of 80 cents over December futures, the West Coast is seeing the opposite phenomenon as diesel basis values plummeted to a 50 cent discount Wednesday.   Less than a month ago we saw LA spots at a 50 cent premium to November futures, that set cash prices above $4.55/gallon vs values around $3.20 this morning. Will we see a similar drop in East Coast values over the next month?

PADD 1 (East Coast) refining rates actually surpassed 100% of nameplate capacity last week, reaching the highest run rates since the PES refinery exploded and shut down in 2019. You may be wondering how refineries can physically run above 100% of capacity, and the simple answer is it’s just like football players giving 110% on every play. Actually, the reason is that when PBF shut units at its Paulsboro refinery at the end of 2020 to try and survive the brutal demand environment that knocked several refineries out of business, 70mb/day of refining capacity was taken off the DOE’s ledger, but hasn’t yet been added back now that those units have restarted.  Given the tight state of supplies in PADD 1, that incremental production could not come at a better time, and helps explain how that particular refiner went from knocking on the door of insolvency 2 years ago, to making more than $1 billion last quarter.

Demand is bad, supply is worse: US gasoline stocks dropped to an 8 year low last week, and soft demand that remains near levels we saw in 2020 may be the only thing preventing widespread outages as a result. 

Total US gasoline imports dropped to their lowest levels of the year, led by a big decline in PADD 1 imports caused by a combination of a temporarily closed arb window from Europe during the French refinery strikes, refinery maintenance at a Canadian refinery that’s a major supplier to the region, and various vessel delays. That drop in imports was a key driver in the various short term outages plaguing terminals across the region in the past few weeks, and if we don’t see a recovery in those imports soon, expect those shortages to continue.   Then again, the next few months are typically the slowest period for imports as US driving demand slows, and gasoline supply increases thanks to the butane blending that’s becoming more prevalent across the country, so we may not see as big of a snap back as we would if this drop had happened 2 months ago.

The diesel import/export flow also continues to have an outsized influence on prices. We did see diesel exports decline last week, and PADD 1 imports start to tick higher in what could be the early wave reacting to the $1/gallon premiums for diesel in the region, both of which helped inventories increase modestly, although days of supply still ticked lower thanks to a healthy increase in the DOE’s demand estimate. Note the drop in PADD 5 diesel imports below as the market reacts just as strongly to the drop in West Coast basis values as it did to the spike in September. The billion dollar question for the months ahead is whether or not the Atlantic basin is capable of that type of a reaction to the high prices in New York. 

Hurricane Lisa made Landfall over Belize Wednesday, and most models now have the storm emerging in the Gulf of Mexico tomorrow after crossing the Yucatan peninsula. Those models don’t currently have the storm redeveloping into a hurricane as it approaches refinery row, but it will need to be watched for another few days. Meanwhile Martin has also reached Hurricane status as it churns through the North Atlantic, far from being a threat to land, and the NHC is tracking two more potential systems off the SE US that are given low odds of being named.

Click here to download a PDF of today's TACenergy Market Talk, including all charts from the Weekly DOE Report.

Market Talk Update 11.03.22

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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.

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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.