The First 4.5 Trading Days Of March Have Smashed Records For Daily Price Swings And Increases

Market TalkMonday, Mar 7 2022
Pivotal Week For Price Action

Good news: gasoline prices are down 28 cents and diesel prices are down 33 cents from where they were trading last night. 

Bad news: both contracts reached record highs last night in the first few minutes of trading, and are still showing large gains from Friday despite the pullback. 

The first 4.5 trading days of March have smashed records for daily price swings and increases as the world comes to grips with the idea that there is no short term solution to replace Russian petroleum supplies, making the risk of both volatility and government intervention higher than ever.  For both ULSD and RBOB, these would be the largest monthly gains on record if prices hold, and we’re not even through a full week yet. 

For ULSD, we’ve already seen the biggest monthly trading range ($1.30/gallon) in just 4.5 days of trading, while the RBOB range of $.95 ranks third all-time behind the March 2020 and December 2008 market meltdowns that both surpassed $1/gallon. 

An official Russian oil embargo (vs the current unofficial and voluntary embargo) was floated over the weekend, while renewed negotiations to reduce sanctions and increase oil output with both Iran and Venezuela seem to be going nowhere, and both seem to be factors in the latest price spike.    

Already, even though energy products aren’t officially sanctioned (yet), we’re seeing dramatic signs of the impact a lack of international buyers is having on its refining operations, as plants are forced to cut run rates and halt crude intake due to a lack of storage for their production. Refinery maintenance and upgrades are also expected to be hampered without access to foreign technology.   

Regional supplies in the US have been disrupted over the past two weeks by a pair of Kinder Morgan pipeline issues, and a handful of (so far minor) refinery disruptions. The coastal markets remain tight in general, while inland markets remain well supplied, and lacking transportation to help alleviate their glut, and/or take advantage of the record spreads from the middle of the country to the edges.

RIN values pulled back on Friday, even as Corn, Soybean (and refined product) prices continued to spike.  A “news” article suggesting the White House was considering a biofuel waiver to help curb food inflation seems to have been the driver of that selling. Other non-food-based environmental credits like the European EUA’s, and California’s LCFS and CCA credits are all seeing heavy selling as expectations rise for both demand destruction, and a change of heart from governments that just a few weeks ago still thought having clean energy was more important than having energy. 

Short covering was the theme of the week for money managers, that saw large reductions in the short positions held in energy futures. WTI and Brent saw some modest new length enter the market, but the lack of “piling on” at least in the first two days of the week when the CFTC data is collected, suggested these huge swings may be too hot to handle, even for the big speculators.

Baker Hughes reported a decline of 3 oil rigs working in the US last week, snapping a 5 week streak of increases. Natural gas rigs increased by 3, the 9th straight week of gains for natural gas focused drilling.

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

Market Talk Update 3.7.22

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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.

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

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.

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, Apr 10 2024

Week 14 - US DOE Inventory Recap