Energy Markets Struggle to Find Direction, OPEC Holds Forecasts Steady

Market TalkFriday, May 12 2023
Pivotal Week For Price Action

Energy prices are limping into the weekend with small losses for products and small gains for crude in the early going. The mixed action in the back half of the week suggests a market that’s struggling to find direction after a big recovery bounce, which could lead to an extended period of choppy sideways trading until a new trend is formed.

OPEC’s monthly oil market report held forecasts steady for global economic activity and oil demand for the balance of the year as increasing activity in China and India are expected to effectively counter slowdowns in the US and Europe. The cartel’s oil output dropped by 191mb/day as losses in Iraq and Nigeria offset gains in Saudi Arabia and Angola.

The report highlighted how refining margins have continued to slide over the past month, and how increasing refinery rates are limiting US diesel export options, and weighing further on those margins, and contributing to the collapse in shipping rates. Asian refinery margins are also sliding below break-even levels in some cases, which could force run cuts, or closures of some facilities now that so much new capacity has come online in the region. 

The crack spread chart below shows that Gulf Coast refining margins are still holding well above break-even levels, but are a very far cry from the record setting levels we saw this time last year when the world simply could not find enough diesel fuel. A Reuters note this morning suggests that OPEC’s output cuts will create a tight market for high sulfur crude grades, which will continue adding to the downward pressure for refiner margins.

The Dallas FED published a broad look at the Texas economy Thursday, which offered more bullet points of slowing economic activity, even though the state continues to outpace the national averages. The Oil and Gas industry continues to add jobs however, despite the stagnation in rig counts this year. 

Today’s interesting read:  How the recent rash of refinery attacks sets the stage for Ukraine’s long-awaited counter-offensive against Russian held territory.

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Market Talk Update 05.12.2023

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Market TalkFriday, Jul 19 2024

Summertime-Friday-Apathy Trade Influencing Energy Markets

Energy markets are treading water to start the day as the Summertime-Friday-Apathy trade seems to be influencing markets around the world in the early going. RBOB futures are trying for a 3rd straight day of gains to wipe out the losses we saw to start the week, while ULSD futures continue to look like the weak link, trading lower for a 2nd day and down nearly 3 cents for the week.

Bad to worse: Exxon’s Joliet refinery remains offline with reports that repairs may take through the end of the month. On top of that long delay in restoring power to the facility, ENT reported this morning that the facility has leaked hydrogen fluoride acid gas, which is a dangerous and controversial chemical used in alkylation units. Chicago basis values continue to rally because of the extended downtime, with RBOB differentials approaching a 50-cent premium to futures, which sets wholesale prices just below the $3 mark, while ULSD has gone from the weakest in the country a month ago to the strongest today. In a sign of how soft the diesel market is over most of the US, however, the premium commanded in a distressed market is still only 2 cents above prompt futures.

The 135mb Calcasieu Refinery near Lake Charles LA has been taken offline this morning after a nearby power substation went out, and early reports suggest repairs will take about a week. There is no word yet if that power substation issue has any impacts on the nearby Citgo Lake Charles or P66 Westlake refineries.

Two tanker ships collided and caught fire off the coast of Singapore this morning. One ship was a VLCC which is the largest tanker in the world capable of carrying around 2 million barrels. The other was a smaller ship carrying “only” 300,000 barrels (roughly 12 million gallons) of naphtha. The area is known for vessels in the “dark fleet” swapping products offshore to avoid sanctions, so a collision isn’t too surprising as the vessels regularly come alongside one another, and this shouldn’t disrupt other ships from transiting the area.

That’s (not) a surprise: European auditors have determined the bloc’s green hydrogen goals are unattainable despite billions of dollars of investment, and are based on “political will” rather than analysis. Also (not) surprising, the ambitious plans to build a “next-gen” hydrogen-powered refinery near Tulsa have been delayed.

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Market TalkThursday, Jul 18 2024

Refined Products Stanch Bleeding Despite Inventory Builds And Demand Slump

Refined products are trading slightly lower to start Thursday after they stopped the bleeding in Wednesday’s session, bouncing more than 2 cents on the day for both RBOB and ULSD, despite healthy inventory builds reported by the DOE along with a large slump in gasoline demand.

Refinery runs are still above average across the board but were pulled in PADD 3 due to the short-term impacts of Beryl. The Gulf Coast region is still outpacing the previous two years and sitting at the top end of its 5-year range as refiners in the region play an interesting game of chicken with margins, betting that someone else’s facility will end up being forced to cut rates before theirs.

Speaking of which, Exxon Joliet was reportedly still offline for a 3rd straight day following weekend thunderstorms that disrupted power to the area. Chicago RBOB basis jumped by another dime during Wednesday’s session as a result of that downtime. Still, that move is fairly pedestrian (so far) in comparison to some of the wild swings we’ve come to expect from the Windy City. IIR via Reuters reports that the facility will be offline for a week.

LA CARBOB differentials are moving in the opposite direction meanwhile as some unlucky seller(s) appear to be stuck long and wrong as gasoline stocks in PADD 5 reach their highest level since February, and held above the 5-year seasonal range for a 4th consecutive week. The 30-cent discount to August RBOB marks the biggest discount to futures since 2022.

The EIA Wednesday also highlighted its forecast for rapid growth in “Other” biofuels production like SAF and Renewable Naptha and Propane, as those producers capable of making SAF instead of RD can add an additional $.75/gallon of federal credits when the Clean Fuels Producer’s Credit takes hold next year. The agency doesn’t break out the products between the various “Other” renewable fuels, but the total projected output of 50 mb/day would amount to roughly 2% of total Jet Fuel production if it was all turned to SAF, which of course it won’t as the other products come along for the ride similar to traditional refining processes.

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Pivotal Week For Price Action
Market TalkWednesday, Jul 17 2024

Week 28 - US DOE Inventory Recap