Nation Nervously Awaits News On Colonial Pipeline Shutdown

Market TalkWednesday, May 12 2021
Pivotal Week For Price Action

Energy futures continue to tick modestly higher, even as equity markets are moving lower for a third day, as the nation nervously awaits news on the Colonial pipeline shutdown. The EPA has extended RVP waivers through the end of May, and a partial Jones Act waiver is still being considered to help alleviate the supply crunch, but as everyone is learning this week, there just is no good way to replace 100 million gallons/day of supply.

We should find out later today if Colonial is still on track to restart its main lines by the weekend, at least according to the U.S. Energy Secretary, who joined the long list of bureaucrats jumping in front of the camera this week to make it seem like they’re helping the situation. Many drivers in the Southeast aren’t waiting to find out as panic buying is reported across several states, which can create shortages even when the supply network is fully functional. A poll on how many people are filling up even though they’re working from home would be interesting.

Colonial’s website was offline for much of the day Tuesday, and even though the company reported that had nothing to do with last week’s cyber-attack, it didn’t seem to provide confidence that things were improving. The site is up and running today, with an added layer of “I’m not a robot” security. You can see their media updates here:

Important details from the latest update are that the manual operations are allowing batches already in the line to get to the terminal level where trucks can load it, but since they’re not yet taking in any new batches of fuel at the Gulf Coast origin points, refiners are left without a key outlet for their production, forcing many to cut back on run rates, which will start backing up crude supplies as well, in a less dramatic version of what we witnessed last spring when everyone stayed home for two months.

While we wait to find out if there’s a go/no go for restart, there’s plenty to read as we have monthly reports from the EIA and OPEC, and a new IEA report on the CPL issue all published in the past 24 hours, in addition to the weekly inventory reports. 

The API showed a draw in crude oil and diesel stocks last week of 2.5 million and 872,000 barrels respectively, while gasoline stocks had a large increase of 5.6 million barrels. That news didn’t seem to move prices as the data is now considered obsolete since it was collected pre-Colonial shutdown. The EIA report is due out at its normal time today, and is likely to be shrugged off as well. With numerous gulf coast refineries cutting rates this week due to the shutdown, we could see large builds in crude, and large declines in refined product inventories in next week’s report.

The EIA’s monthly forecast increased estimates for gasoline demand this summer, although totals are still expected to be below what we saw in 2019. The monthly report also finally acknowledged the influence record high ethanol and RIN prices are having on refiners and their product prices. Distillate demand increased to its highest level since November 2019 in April, “likely” driven by high freight demand.  Here too the agency expects that strength to continue this summer.

OPEC’s monthly report showed the cartel’s output held steady for the month, with increases from Iran, Nigeria and Saudi Arabia offsetting declines in Libya and Venezuela. The report held its global demand estimates steady for the year, and highlighted the return of US drilling operations that will drive non-OPEC production gains for the next year.

The IEA released a note on the Colonial situation, and calling for greater focus on cyber resilience. That report highlighted the unique situation the East Coast (PADD 1) is in as the largest “importer” of refined products in the world that continues to see a drop in supply options thanks to the shutdown of numerous refineries over the past decade. Perhaps it’s even more remarkable how well supplied these markets are most of the time given the huge amounts of fuel needing to be transported every day to meet that demand.

As a result, if considered on its own, PADD 1 is the largest net importer of refined products in the world, ahead of all of Africa and the Southern Asia Pacific (Australia, Indonesia, Singapore and New Zealand combined).

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Pivotal Week For Price Action
Market TalkFriday, Sep 22 2023

Energy Markets Are Ticking Modestly Higher This Morning But Remain Well Off The Highs Set Early Thursday

Energy markets are ticking modestly higher this morning but remain well off the highs set early Thursday following the reports that Russia was temporarily banning most refined product exports.  

The law of government intervention and unintended consequences: Russian officials claim the export ban is an effort to promote market stability, and right on cue, its gasoline prices plummeted a not-so-stable 10% following the news. 

There’s a saying that bull markets don’t end due to bad news, they end when the market stops rallying on good news. It’s possible that if ULSD futures continue lower after failing to sustain yesterday’s rally, or this morning’s, we could be seeing the end of the most recent bull run. That said, it’s still much too soon to call the top here, particularly with a steepening forward curve leaving prices susceptible to a squeeze, and the winter-demand months still ahead of us. Short term we need to see ULSD hold above $3.30 next week to avoid breaking its weekly trend line.

The sell-off in RIN values picked up steam Thursday, with 2023 D4 and D6 values dropping to the $1.02 range before finally finding a bid later in the session and ending the day around $1.07.   

Tropical Storm Ophelia is expected to be named today, before making landfall on the North Carolina coast tomorrow. This isn’t a major storm, and there aren’t any refineries in its path, so it’s unlikely to do much to disrupt supply, but it will dump heavy rain several of the major East Coast markets so it will likely hamper demand through the weekend. The other storm system being tracked by the NHC is now given 90% odds of being named next week, but its predicted path has shifted north as it moves across the Atlantic, which suggests it is more likely to stay out to sea like Nigel did than threaten either the Gulf or East Coasts.

Exxon reported an upset at its Baytown refinery that’s been ongoing for the past 24 hours.  It’s still unclear which units are impacted by this event, and whether or not it will have meaningful impacts on output. Total’s Pt Arthur facility also reported an upset yesterday, but that event lasted less than 90 minutes. Like most upsets in the region recently, traders seem to be shrugging off the news with gulf coast basis values not moving much. 

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

Pivotal Week For Price Action
Market TalkThursday, Sep 21 2023

The Yo-Yo Action In Diesel Continues With Each Day Alternating Between Big Gains And Big Losses So Far This Week

The yo-yo action in diesel continues with each day alternating between big gains and big losses so far this week. Today’s 11-cent rally is being blamed on reports that Russia is cutting exports of refined products effective immediately. It’s been a while since Russian sabre rattling has driven a noticeable price move in energy futures, after being a common occurrence at the start of the war. Just like tweets from our prior President however, these types of announcements seem to have a diminishing shelf-life, particularly given how the industry has adapted to the change in Russian export flows, so don’t be surprised if the early rally loses steam later today. 

The announcement also helped gasoline prices rally 5-cents off of their overnight lows, and cling to modest gains just above a penny in the early going. Before the announcement, RBOB futures were poised for a 5th straight day of losses.

IF the export ban lasts, that would be good news for US refiners that have seen their buyers in south American countries – most notably Brazil – reduce their purchases in favor of discounted barrels from Russia this year

US refinery runs dropped below year-ago levels for the first time in 6 weeks, with PADDS 1, 2 and 3 all seeing large declines at the start of a busy fall maintenance schedule.  Oil inventories continued to decline, despite the drop-in run rates and a big increase in the adjustment factor as oil exports surged back north of 5 million barrels/day. Keep in mind that as recently as 2011 the US only produced 5 million barrels of oil every day, and exports were mostly banned until 2016, so to be sending this many barrels overseas is truly a game changer for the global market.

Chicken or the egg?  Cushing OK oil stocks dropped below year-ago levels for the first time since January last week, which may be caused by the return of backwardation incenting shippers to lower inventory levels, the shift to new WTI Midland and Houston contracts as the export market expands.  Of course, the low inventory levels are also blamed for causing the backwardation in crude oil prices, and the shift to an export market may keep inventories at the NYMEX hub lower for longer as fewer shippers want to go inland with their barrels.

Refined product inventories remain near the bottom end of their seasonal ranges, with a healthy recovery in demand after last week’s holiday hangover helping keep stocks in check.  The biggest mover was a large jump in PADD 5 distillates, which was foreshadowed by the 30 cent drop in basis values the day prior.   The big story for gasoline on the week was a surge in exports to the highest level of the year, which is helping keep inventories relatively tight despite the driving season having ended 2 weeks ago.

As expected, the FED held rates yesterday, but the open market committee also included a note that they expected to raise rates one more time this year, which sparked a selloff in equity markets that trickled over into energy prices Wednesday afternoon. The correlation between energy and equities has been non-existent of late, and already this morning we’re seeing products up despite equities pointing lower, so it doesn’t look like the FOMC announcement will have a lasting impact on fuel prices this time around.

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Pivotal Week For Price Action
Market TalkWednesday, Sep 20 2023

Week 38- US DOE Inventory Recap