Large Inventory Draws Under Pressure

Market TalkFriday, Oct 16 2020
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Large inventory draws helped energy prices recover from a heavy wave of early selling Wednesday, but they’re under pressure again to start Thursday’s session as doubts linger about the sustainability of those improving fundamentals.  

There’s no doubt that hurricane Delta had a large impact on last week’s numbers reported by the DOE as nearly 20% of refining capacity and essentially all of the oil production in the Gulf of Mexico were in the storm’s path. Now that Delta has passed and damage appears to be minimal (P66 confirmed restart of its Lake Charles facility yesterday) there seems to be much more to worry about with demand than there is with supply. 

Diesel inventories saw their biggest weekly decline in 17 years as refiners made sharp cuts in output thanks to both weak margins and a major hurricane, while consumption held steady thanks in large part to harvest demand peaking across the Midwest.  That was some good news for refiners, and helped ULSD prices erase the heavy selling from earlier in the morning.  The bad news is inventories are still closer to record highs than to average levels, and the cuts in distillate yield aren’t easily sustainable. 

U.S. diesel production reached its lowest level since the aftermath of Hurricane Harvey three years ago. While some of the decline is due to shutdowns ahead of Delta, there is also a real concern that the glut of distillates will continue to weigh on refiners for some time. As the charts below show, refiners are already stretching their product mix to levels we haven’t seen in 20 years as gasoline demand and margins have rebounded, while distillates languish, and there’s not much else they’ll be able to do besides cut run rates completely.

Gasoline inventories are back in a normal pattern, holding below 2019 levels and their five year seasonal average for a second week, even though demand pulled estimates dipped and remain nearly one million barrels/day below where they should be this time of year. Refiners are stretching to maximize gasoline yields just in time for the seasonal demand slowdown, which might make for a sloppy market this winter. 

The refinery formerly known as Hovensa, which used to have a strong influence on NYH prices before being shuttered in 2012 due to weak economics, has been struggling to restart for a variety of reasons after new owners took over. A Reuters report this morning suggests that those new owners are now stuck between needing to start the facility this year to avoid losing its crude supplier, and an oversupplied market that would mean operating at a loss.

One of the two storm systems being watched by the NHC is slightly better organized today and is given 40% odds of developing, but is in a location that suggests it will stay offshore and not threaten the U.S. coastline. The other system is in a more dangerous position in the Caribbean that could move north into the Gulf of Mexico, but it’s still only given 20% odds of developing.

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Market TalkFriday, May 24 2024

Selling Continues In Energy Markets After Thursday's Reversal Rally Ran Out Of Steam In The Afternoon

The selling continues in energy markets after Thursday’s reversal rally ran out of steam in the afternoon, following the lead of U.S. equity markets which had a big sell-off on the day. Prices haven’t yet fallen below the multi-month lows we saw early last week, but we’re just a couple of cents away from those levels, and the potential technical trapdoor that could lead to sharply lower values over the next couple of weeks.

We did see a brief spike in gasoline futures after the settlement Thursday following reports that Colonial had shut down Line 4 due to an IT issue, but those gains were short-lived as the pipeline was restarted without issue a few hours later. Those who remember the chaos of May 2021 after Colonial was hacked are breathing a sigh of relief, particularly on one of the busiest demand days of the year, while others are no doubt disappointed we won’t get to see the rash of fake photos of people filling up plastic bags with gasoline.

OPEC & Friends (AKA the DoC) announced they’re moving June’s policy meeting to a virtual-only affair, which the market is taking as a signal of the status quo being held on output cuts.

Chicago being Chicago: Tuesday’s 60-cent basis spike was officially wiped out by Thursday afternoon, suggesting the short-lived rally was just short covering in an illiquid market rather than a meaningful supply disruption.

RIN values continued their rally this week, touching a 4-month high at 59 cents/RIN for both D4 and D6 values Thursday. If you believe in technical analysis on something like RINs, you can see a “W” pattern formed on the charts, suggesting a run to the 80-cent range is coming if prices can get above 60. If you are more of a fundamentalist, then you’ll probably think this rally is probably more short-term short-covering by producers of RD who have changed their schedule buying back their RIN hedges for volume they’re no longer planning to produce.

NOAA issued its most aggressive Hurricane forecast ever Thursday, joining numerous other groups that think a La Nina pattern and record warm waters will create more and bigger storms this year. With the activity level seeming to be a foregone conclusion at this point, now it’s all about where those storms hit to know if this busy season will be a huge factor in energy supplies like we saw in 2005, 2008, 2012 and 2017. With the Houston area already being bombarded by floods and deadly wind this year, the refinery row across the U.S. Gulf Coast seems even more vulnerable than normal to the effects of a storm.

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Pivotal Week For Price Action
Market TalkThursday, May 23 2024

Gasoline Prices Have Finally Found A Bid, Trading Up 3 Cents On The Day

Gasoline prices have finally found a bid, trading up 3 cents on the day after coming within a penny and a quarter of the multi-month lows set last week overnight. ULSD prices are also up a couple of cents in the early going after wiping out the gains they made last week. Both contracts are once again threatening a technical breakdown that could push prices another 20-30 cents lower if the current bounce isn’t sustained.

The EIA’s estimate for gasoline demand surged to a 7-month high last week, capping off a 4th straight week of gains that puts total consumption near the top end of the seasonal range after a very sluggish start to the year. AAA estimates that travel this Memorial Day weekend will approach a 20 year high with nearly 44 million people hitting the roads.

The EIA also published a note this morning showing average US gasoline prices are up 1% from last year, accompanied by a chart showing that average prices are down 7 cents/gallon from this time last year. The spread between retail gasoline prices on the West Coast vs the rest of the country continues to grow and is shown to be over $1.20/gallon thanks to Oregon and Washington’s Californication of their energy policies in recent years.

The EIA still seems to be struggling to figure out its accounting methods for crude oil inventories, with the adjustment factor that’s been creating all sorts of confusion the past couple of years flipping from a negative 200,000 barrels/day last week, to a positive 1.4 million barrels/day this week. You could give the EIA compilation crew a break and say that this reflects just how large and complex the US crude oil supply network is, or you could ask how did they suddenly “find” 10-million barrels of oil that they didn’t see last week.

Refiners are cranking up run rates, exceeding the levels we’ve seen this time of year in either of the past 2 years. Those higher run rates are added to the glut of diesel products that’s hanging over the majority of the country, and pushing rack spreads to levels we haven’t seen since the COVID lockdown in several markets.

The export market for US crude and refined products remains very busy with nearly 10 million barrels shipped out of the country every day. Refinery throughput was 16.2 million barrels/day last week, and more than 6 million barrels/day was exported even though gasoline and diesel exports have stagnated this year. The anticipated tick higher in US diesel exports following the rash of Russian refinery attacks has not materialized, which is no doubt contributing to the negative sentiment for diesel prices over the past month. The busy and growing export market for crude and other products also creates an interesting dynamic as we prepare for a busy hurricane season to kick off in a week as any disruption to infrastructure along the Gulf Coast could limit product going out of the country almost as much as it disrupts products flowing inland.

Basis values for RBOB in Chicago dropped 30 cents Wednesday after Tuesday’s 60 cent spike. It’s still unclear what if any impacts the confirmed fire at Exxon’s Joliet refinery, or the rumored upsets at BP’s Whiting facility have had on actual supply in the region, but the quick pullback suggests this is a flash in the pan rather than the start of a prolonged supply shortage.

Exxon reported a leak at its Beaumont TX Chemical plant, but it appears that upset isn’t impacting the operations at its adjacent refinery.

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, May 22 2024

Week 20 - US DOE Inventory Recap