Military Strikes Spur Energy Futures

Market TalkFriday, Jan 3 2020
Week 44 - US DOE Inventory Recap

U.S. military strikes in Iraq have spurred energy futures to their highest levels in more than seven months overnight, with most contracts up around four percent on the day. To be clear, there has been no immediate impact on oil supply, or even a direct threat on supplies in the region, but this situation is all about what might come next.

Is this the start of a larger military conflict between the U.S. and Iran that could threaten the Strait of Hormuz and 20 percent of the world’s oil supply? Or will this end up just another blip on the radar screen for an energy market like the attacks in Saudi Arabia or the sabotage to oil tankers last year due to ample global supplies and spare production capacity?

The reaction in stock markets to the news of the attacks is a good reminder that there could be a negative impact on fuel demand as well if this situation escalates.

The first test on the charts will be the high trades set in the wake of the Saudi Attacks last September, which were breached overnight by WTI, ULSD and RBOB futures, but have since pulled back below that level. As a reminder, within two weeks of the Saudi Attacks – which actually took more than five percent of global supply off the market temporarily – prices were lower than they had been prior.

RBOB futures are running into a cluster of resistance in the $1.77 range, which marks both the 200 day moving average on the continuation chart, and the high trades from September’s brief spike. For ULSD, the $2.10 range looks like the hurdle to clear if this rally is going to spark the next big move higher. If prices continue to push through the highs set in 2019, the next big targets on the charts are the 2018 high trades - roughly 30 cents above current values.

The fallout from the airstrikes in Iraq probably mean the market may shrug off the DOE’s weekly status report, which is due out at 11 a.m. EST due to the holiday this week.

Click here to download a PDF of today's TACenergy Market Talk.

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Despite the bounce in the back half of the week, the weekly charts for both RBOB and ULSD are still painting a bearish outlook with a lower high and lower low set this week unless the early rally this morning can pick up steam in the afternoon. It does seem like the cycle of liquidation from hedge funds has ended however, so it would appear to be less likely that we’ll see another test of technical support near term after this bounce.

Ukraine hit another Russian refinery with a drone strike overnight, sparking a fire at Rosneft’s 240mb/day Tuapse facility on the black sea. That plant was one of the first to be struck by Ukrainian drones back in January and had just completed repairs from that strike in April. The attack was just one part of the largest drone attack to date on Russian energy infrastructure overnight, with more than 100 drones targeting power plants, fuel terminals and two different ports on the Black Sea. I guess that means Ukraine continues to politely ignore the White House request to stop blowing up energy infrastructure in Russia.

Elsewhere in the world where lots of things are being blown up: Several reports of a drone attack in Israel’s largest refining complex (just under 200kbd) made the rounds Thursday, although it remains unclear how much of that is propaganda by the attackers and if any impact was made on production.

The LA market had 2 different refinery upsets Thursday. Marathon reported an upset at the Carson section of its Los Angeles refinery in the morning (the Carson facility was combined with the Wilmington refinery in 2019 and now reports as a single unit to the state, but separately to the AQMD) and Chevron noted a “planned” flaring event Thursday afternoon. Diesel basis values in the region jumped 6 cents during the day. Chicago diesel basis also staged a recovery rally after differentials dropped past a 30 cent discount to futures earlier in the week, pushing wholesale values briefly below $2.10/gallon.

So far there haven’t been any reports of refinery disruptions from the severe weather than swept across the Houston area Thursday. Valero did report a weather-related upset at its Mckee refinery in the TX panhandle, although it appears they avoided having to take any units offline due to that event.

The Panama Canal Authority announced it was increasing its daily ship transit level to 31 from 24 as water levels in the region have recovered following more than a year of restrictions. That’s still lower than the 39 ships/day rate at the peak in 2021, but far better than the low of 18 ships per day that choked transit last year.

Click here to download a PDF of today's TACenergy Market Talk.

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Energy Prices Found A Temporary Floor After Hitting New Multi-Month Lows Wednesday

Energy prices found a temporary floor after hitting new multi-month lows Wednesday morning as a rally to record highs in US equity markets and a modestly bullish DOE report both seemed to encourage buyers to step back into the ring.

RBOB and ULSD futures both bounced more than 6 cents off of their morning lows, following a CPI report that eased inflation fears and boosted hopes for the stock market’s obsession of the FED cutting interest rates. Even though the correlation between energy prices and equities and currencies has been weak lately, the spillover effect on the bidding was clear from the timing of the moves Wednesday.

The DOE’s weekly report seemed to add to the optimism seen in equity markets as healthy increases in the government’s demand estimates kept product inventories from building despite increased refinery runs.

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Gasoline inventories are following typical seasonal patterns except on the West Coast where a surge in imports helped inventories recover for a 3rd straight week following April’s big basis rally.

Refiners for the most part are also following the seasonal script, ramping up output as we approach the peak driving demand season which unofficially kicks off in 10 days. PADD 2 refiners didn’t seem to be learning any lessons from last year’s basis collapse and rapidly increased run rates last week, which is another contributor to the weakness in midwestern cash markets. One difference this year for PADD 2 refiners is the new Transmountain pipeline system has eroded some of their buying advantage for Canadian crude grades, although those spreads so far haven’t shrunk as much as some had feared.

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

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