Energy Prices Attempting Move Lower To Begin Penultimate Day of Trading For 2022

Market TalkThursday, Dec 29 2022
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Energy prices are attempting another move lower to begin the penultimate day of trading for 2022.  We saw a very similar sell-off happening this time yesterday, only to see a strong rally in the afternoon wipe out those losses. Refinery restarts, weak equity markets and increasing COVID counts in China are all getting credit for the selling over the past couple of days, although it’s unclear what may have prompted yesterday’s buying spree that added 14 cents to diesel prices in just under an hour. 

The selling in both futures and cash markets seemed to follow news that the country’s largest refineries along the Gulf Coast were making fast work of restarting units shut by last week’s storm, reducing the chances of significant supply disruptions from that downtime. 

While many facilities weathered the storm well, there’s at least one long-term casualty so far. Suncor issued a press release Wednesday saying its Commerce City refinery – the only one in the state of Colorado - would shut completely, most likely for several months, to allow for damage assessments and repairs following multiple fires since the plant was knocked offline last week. The release says full operations are expected by late Q1 2023. The loss of a refinery in the Denver area will max out pipeline resupply options from the Midwest, TX Panhandle and from Wyoming. It would also be a great time to have a refinery 100 miles to the north in Cheyenne, but that facility was converted to RD production 2 years ago when oil refiners were desperate to stay afloat. Given the region isn’t directly tied into any major spot markets, don’t expect this shutdown to have an influence on prices beyond the cities directly impacted.

Remarkably, that shutdown announcement may not have been the worst news of the day for the facility, as the EPA announced it was investigating the state of Colorado for discriminatory air permitting policies, which could make restarting the Suncor facility much more challenging. You may recall the EPA recently made it all but impossible for the St. Croix refinery FKA Hovensa to restart after multiple operational upsets, and it’s not too far-fetched to think the Suncor plant could wind up with a similar fate, particularly given its horrible operating track record over the past couple of years. 

The API reported small inventory builds for refined products last week of 510,000 barrels of gasoline and 38,000 barrels of distillates, while oil inventories fell by 1.3 million barrels. Given that products still increased despite the pre-Christmas demand rush, and oil only declined slightly despite the Keystone shutdown and importers avoiding taking oil into Texas to avoid year-end taxes, those figures seem pretty bearish and are likely contributing to the latest sell-off attempt. The DOE/EIA’s weekly report is due out at 10 am central today. Don’t expect to see any impact of the refinery shutdowns in this report as the data was collected for the week ending last Friday, right when the storm’s impact was being felt.

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Market Talk Update 12-29-22

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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.