RBOB Gasoline Futures Are Once Again Leading The Price Action, Dropping A Nickel In The Early Going After Rallying 7 Cents Monday

Market TalkTuesday, Jan 23 2024
Pivotal Week For Price Action

Energy futures are sliding back into the red Tuesday after a strong rally Monday as traders appear to have remembered that it’s still January. RBOB gasoline futures are once again leading the price action, dropping a nickel in the early going after rallying 7 cents Monday, while ULSD futures are currently close to erasing Monday’s 3 cent gains. 

The winter demand doldrums continue to show up in cash markets around the country, with diesel differentials in both the Group 3 and Chicago markets dipping below 45 cent discounts to futures, despite a handful of refinery hiccups reported due to winter weather and power outages over the past week. Those heavy discounts are offering a big incentive to anyone creative enough to find a way to move barrels from the middle of the country to the East or Gulf Coasts.

While the weak values in the mid-continent are a big story so far this winter, weakness in San Francisco stole the show Monday as prompt diesel basis values plunged more than 22 cents on the day and are currently valued around 35 cents below February HO. Some of that weakness may be an anomaly due to the end of January pipeline scheduling and we may well see a big bounce as traders shift to February, but there are plenty of reports in the region of terminal supplies swelling and Kinder Morgan cutting pipeline batches as a result, so the weakness certainly has some potential to stick around a while. 

Meanwhile, Los Angeles traders seemed unimpressed by reports that Marathon’s Wilmington facility had been taken offline with prompt differentials for both gasoline and diesel finishing slightly lower on the day.

RIN prices have dipped to a 3 year low this week at or below $.75/RIN for both D4 and D6 values as the rapid increase in Renewable Diesel output continues to add more supply of physical diesel and RINs.  In addition, California’s LCFS values have dropped to a new multi-year low below $60/credit this week, putting more pressure on renewable producers who depend on the combined subsidies provided by RINs, the $1/gallon federal blender’s tax credit (aka BTC, which ends this year), LCFS credits and the amount charged for CCA costs in order to stay profitable. As the chart below shows, the decline in RIN and LCFS prices over the past year makes the outlook for those producers much less appealing, especially knowing that the BTC will be going away next year.

The lower RIN values is typically good news for US refiners who bear the burden of complying with the Renewable Fuel Standard, but given the impact of new competing refinery output, a new outlet for Canadian crude and sluggish demand, those lower RIN values still may not be enough to keep some facilities from contemplating run cuts this year.   

Speaking of which, the CEO of Pemex said over the weekend that the long-awaited Dos Bocas refinery on the southern Gulf of Mexico coast will reach its fully capacity in March.  That would mean a new 340,000 barrels/day of throughput for the country that bought more than 700,000 barrels/day from the US last year and would inevitably back up barrels into the US if it ever actually happens. 


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Market Talk Update 1.23.24

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Pivotal Week For Price Action
Market TalkFriday, Apr 12 2024

Charts Continue To Favor A Push Towards The $3 Mark For Gasoline, While Diesel Prices May Need To Be Dragged Along For The Ride

Energy prices are rallying once again with the expected Iranian attack on Israel over the weekend appearing to be the catalyst for the move. RBOB gasoline futures are leading the way once again, trading up more than a nickel on the day to reach a fresh 7 month high at $2.8280. Charts continue to favor a push towards the $3 mark for gasoline, while diesel prices may need to be dragged along for the ride.

So far it appears that Motiva Pt. Arthur is the only refinery that experienced a noteworthy upset from the storms that swept across the southern half of the country this week. Those storms also delayed the first round of the Masters, which matters more to most traders this week than the refinery upset.

Chevron’s El Segundo refinery in the LA-area reported an unplanned flaring event Thursday, but the big moves once again came from the San Francisco spot market that saw diesel prices rally sharply to 25 cent premiums to futures. The Bay Area now commands the highest prices for spot gasoline and diesel as the conversion of 1 out of the 4 remaining refineries to renewable output is not-surprisingly creating disruptions in the supply chain.

RIN values dropped back below the 50-cent mark, after the recovery rally ran out of steam last week. The EPA is facing numerous legal challenges on the RFS and other policies, and now half of the US states are challenging the agency’s new rule restricting soot emissions. That lack of clarity on what the law actually is or may be is having widespread impacts on environmental credits around the world and makes enforcement of such policies a bit of a joke. Speaking of which, the EPA did just fine a South Carolina company $2.8 million and require that it buy and retire 9 million RINs for improper reporting from 2013-2019. The cost of those RINs now is about 1/3 of what it was this time last year, so slow playing the process definitely appears to have paid off in this case.

The IEA continues to do its best to downplay global demand for petroleum, once again reducing its economic outlook in its Monthly Report even though the EIA and OPEC continue to show growth, and the IEA’s own data shows “Robust” activity in the first quarter of the year. The IEA has come under fire from US lawmakers for changing its priorities from promoting energy security, to becoming a cheerleader for energy transition at the expense of reality.

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Pivotal Week For Price Action
Market TalkThursday, Apr 11 2024

Diesel Prices Continue To Be The Weak Link In The Energy Chain

Energy prices are ticking modestly lower this morning, despite warnings from the US that an Iranian attack on Israeli interest is “imminent” and reports of weather induced refinery outages, as demand fears seem to be outweighing supply fears temporarily. Diesel prices continue to be the weak link in the energy chain with both the DOE and OPEC reports giving the diesel bears reason to believe lower prices are coming.

The March PPI report showed a lower inflation reading for producers than the Consumer Price Index report, leading to an immediate bounce in equity futures after the big wave of selling we saw yesterday. To put the CPI impact in perspective, a week ago Fed Fund futures were pricing in an 80% chance of an interest rate cut by the FED’s July 31 meeting, and today those odds have shrunk to 40% according to the CME’s FedWatch tool.

OPEC’s monthly oil market report held a steady outlook for economic growth and oil demand from last month’s report, noting the healthy momentum of economic activity in the US. The cartel’s outlook also highlighted significant product stock increases last month that weighed heavily on refining margins, particularly for diesel. Given the US focus on ULSD futures that are deliverable on the East Coast, which continues to have relatively tight supply for diesel, it’s easy to overlook how quickly Asian markets have gotten long on distillates unless of course you’re struggling through the slog of excess supply in numerous west coast markets these days. The OPEC report noted this in a few different ways, including a 33% decline in Chinese product exports as the region simply no longer needs its excess. The cartel’s oil output held steady during March with only small changes among the countries as they hold to their output cut agreements.

If you believe the DOE’s diesel demand estimates, there’s reason to be concerned about domestic consumption after a 2nd straight week of big declines. The current estimate below 3 million barrels/day is something we typically only see the week after Christmas when many businesses shut their doors. We know the DOE’s figures are missing about 5% of total demand due to Renewable Diesel not being included in the weekly stats, and it’s common to see a drop the week after a holiday, but to lose more than a million barrels/day of consumption in just 2 weeks will keep some refiners on edge.

Most PADDs continue to follow their seasonal trends on gasoline with 1 and 2 still in their normal draw down period, while PADD 3 is rebuilding inventories faster than normal following the transition to summer grade products. That rapid influx of inventory in PADD 3 despite robust export activity helps explain the spike in premiums to ship barrels north on Colonial over the past 2 weeks. Gasoline also saw a sizeable drop in its weekly demand estimate, but given the holiday hangover effect, and the fact that it’s in line with the past 2 years, there’s not as much to be concerned about with that figure. While most of the activity happens in PADDs 1-3, the biggest disconnect is coming in PADDs 4 and 5, with gasoline prices in some Colorado markets being sold 50 cents or more below futures, while prices in some California markets are approaching 90 cents above futures.

Severe weather sweeping across the southern US knocked several units offline at Motiva’s Pt Arthur plant (the country’s largest refinery) Wednesday, and it seems likely that Louisiana refineries will see some disruption from the storm that spawned tornadoes close to the Mississippi River refining hub. So far cash markets haven’t reacted much, but they’ll probably need more time to see what damage may have occurred.

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Pivotal Week For Price Action
Market TalkWednesday, Apr 10 2024

Week 14 - US DOE Inventory Recap