Refined Products Are Trading Down A Couple Of Cents In The Early Going While Crude Oil Contracts Are Seeing Modest Gains As July Trading Comes To A Close

Market TalkMonday, Jul 31 2023
Pivotal Week For Price Action

Refined products are trading down a couple of cents in the early going while crude oil contracts are seeing modest gains as July trading comes to a close, in what should end up being the strongest month in almost a year for energy contracts.  

RBOB gasoline futures came within 65 points of reaching the $3/gallon mark Friday, before stalling out and pulling back to around $2.93 this morning. The July contract expires today, and August is trading more than 6 cents lower, reducing the chances of another run at $3 gasoline futures near term, while physical prices across the 3 West Coast spot markets are all well above that level. Most cash markets are already trading vs August futures, so watch that contract for price direction today if you’re not already.  

ULSD futures topped out at $2.9748 Friday before sliding to around $2.93 this morning but aren’t seeing anywhere near the backwardation of gasoline (another sign of the dramatic changes from a year ago) and the charts suggest a decent chance diesel futures can still make a run at $3 over the next several days. Just like gasoline, west coast ULSD spot markets are all trading north of $3, while markets east of the Rockies range from $2.86-$2.95 this morning. 

Money managers continue to jump on the energy bandwagon, adding length across the board last week in crude and refined products. The net length (bets on higher prices) for RBOB and ULSD is at the highest level of the year, with the late-comers still willing to buy after the strong July rally. From a historical perspective, the outstanding length held by the big speculators is relatively mild, so it’s not yet a contrary indicator that the trend may soon run out of steam.

Open interest continues to recover in RBOB ULSD and Brent contracts as easing volatility and margin requirements encourage funds to return to the market after many were forced out during last year’s chaos. The exception to the OI recovery rule is WTI, which is still running roughly ½ million contracts lower than anything we saw from 2016-2021.

The reason for the slump in the classic NYMEX crude oil contract appears to be the rapid expansion in trading activity for new WTI contracts FOB Houston and Midland as the export market for domestic crude grades increases. Both the CME Group (NYMEX parent) and ICE (Home of the Brent contract) are racing to take advantage of the changing patterns, and both exchanges have reported record trading activity in their new WTI contracts over the past week.

Baker Hughes reported a drop of 1 oil rig and 3 natural gas rigs drilling in the US last week, continuing the trend of slow but steady attrition in the rig count that’s been happening for most of the year. Unlike the past 3 weeks however, the Permian basin didn’t lead the slide, and actually increased by 1 rig on the week. Don’t expect a rapid recovery in rig counts with oil prices north of the $80 mark given the long lead times needed to acquire equipment and crews, but we may see the declines come to an end if prices can hold near current levels.

California Carbon Allowance (CCA) prices spiked to a record high last week after the Air Resources Board (CARB) announced plans to make the Cap & Trade program more stringent.  California’s Low Carbon Fuel Standard (LCFS) credit values meanwhile continue to languish as new production of renewables, most notably renewable diesel, creates a surplus off credits and the state’s plans to also make that program more stringent are less clear.

The National Hurricane center is tracking two potential storm systems in the Atlantic this week, one of which is given 80% odds of being named, while the other has just 20%. Both systems look like they’ll stay far enough out to sea to not be a threat to land, while the map suggests they could end up merging off the coast of New England. Two storm systems converging off of the New England coast…seems oddly familiar.

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Market Talk Update 07.31.2023

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Market TalkFriday, Jul 19 2024

Summertime-Friday-Apathy Trade Influencing Energy Markets

Energy markets are treading water to start the day as the Summertime-Friday-Apathy trade seems to be influencing markets around the world in the early going. RBOB futures are trying for a 3rd straight day of gains to wipe out the losses we saw to start the week, while ULSD futures continue to look like the weak link, trading lower for a 2nd day and down nearly 3 cents for the week.

Bad to worse: Exxon’s Joliet refinery remains offline with reports that repairs may take through the end of the month. On top of that long delay in restoring power to the facility, ENT reported this morning that the facility has leaked hydrogen fluoride acid gas, which is a dangerous and controversial chemical used in alkylation units. Chicago basis values continue to rally because of the extended downtime, with RBOB differentials approaching a 50-cent premium to futures, which sets wholesale prices just below the $3 mark, while ULSD has gone from the weakest in the country a month ago to the strongest today. In a sign of how soft the diesel market is over most of the US, however, the premium commanded in a distressed market is still only 2 cents above prompt futures.

The 135mb Calcasieu Refinery near Lake Charles LA has been taken offline this morning after a nearby power substation went out, and early reports suggest repairs will take about a week. There is no word yet if that power substation issue has any impacts on the nearby Citgo Lake Charles or P66 Westlake refineries.

Two tanker ships collided and caught fire off the coast of Singapore this morning. One ship was a VLCC which is the largest tanker in the world capable of carrying around 2 million barrels. The other was a smaller ship carrying “only” 300,000 barrels (roughly 12 million gallons) of naphtha. The area is known for vessels in the “dark fleet” swapping products offshore to avoid sanctions, so a collision isn’t too surprising as the vessels regularly come alongside one another, and this shouldn’t disrupt other ships from transiting the area.

That’s (not) a surprise: European auditors have determined the bloc’s green hydrogen goals are unattainable despite billions of dollars of investment, and are based on “political will” rather than analysis. Also (not) surprising, the ambitious plans to build a “next-gen” hydrogen-powered refinery near Tulsa have been delayed.

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Market TalkThursday, Jul 18 2024

Refined Products Stanch Bleeding Despite Inventory Builds And Demand Slump

Refined products are trading slightly lower to start Thursday after they stopped the bleeding in Wednesday’s session, bouncing more than 2 cents on the day for both RBOB and ULSD, despite healthy inventory builds reported by the DOE along with a large slump in gasoline demand.

Refinery runs are still above average across the board but were pulled in PADD 3 due to the short-term impacts of Beryl. The Gulf Coast region is still outpacing the previous two years and sitting at the top end of its 5-year range as refiners in the region play an interesting game of chicken with margins, betting that someone else’s facility will end up being forced to cut rates before theirs.

Speaking of which, Exxon Joliet was reportedly still offline for a 3rd straight day following weekend thunderstorms that disrupted power to the area. Chicago RBOB basis jumped by another dime during Wednesday’s session as a result of that downtime. Still, that move is fairly pedestrian (so far) in comparison to some of the wild swings we’ve come to expect from the Windy City. IIR via Reuters reports that the facility will be offline for a week.

LA CARBOB differentials are moving in the opposite direction meanwhile as some unlucky seller(s) appear to be stuck long and wrong as gasoline stocks in PADD 5 reach their highest level since February, and held above the 5-year seasonal range for a 4th consecutive week. The 30-cent discount to August RBOB marks the biggest discount to futures since 2022.

The EIA Wednesday also highlighted its forecast for rapid growth in “Other” biofuels production like SAF and Renewable Naptha and Propane, as those producers capable of making SAF instead of RD can add an additional $.75/gallon of federal credits when the Clean Fuels Producer’s Credit takes hold next year. The agency doesn’t break out the products between the various “Other” renewable fuels, but the total projected output of 50 mb/day would amount to roughly 2% of total Jet Fuel production if it was all turned to SAF, which of course it won’t as the other products come along for the ride similar to traditional refining processes.

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Pivotal Week For Price Action
Market TalkWednesday, Jul 17 2024

Week 28 - US DOE Inventory Recap