ULSD Prices Drop Despite Looming Russian Supply Ban

Market TalkTuesday, Jan 31 2023
Pivotal Week For Price Action

ULSD continues to lead the energy complex lower as January winds to a close, dropping from a high of $3.58 one week ago to a low of $3.0570 this morning. Crude oil and gasoline prices have also come under heavy pressure, but have lagged far behind the moves in ULSD, which has pushed prompt diesel crack spreads by down by $12/barrel in just a week.

Why exactly diesel prices got so weak so fast is a bit of a mystery given that inventories remain well below their seasonal ranges, refineries across the country are running below normal levels due to a rash of unplanned issues, and the embargo on Russian diesel shipments starts this weekend. 

The warmer than expected winter has certainly eased concerns of more severe shortages of natural gas and heating oil across Europe and the US North East, but European natural gas prices have been rebounding as temperatures are expected to drop again next week, and French workers are attempting to block more fuel deliveries today as part of the ongoing strikes against state pension reform. 

Recession expectations could be a factor in this pullback, as they were during the last 2022 selloff as earnings season is showing that US consumers are slowing down purchases, while the FED is poised for another rate hike tomorrow.   

Liquidations by the hedge funds that added new bets on higher prices last week, just in time for this pullback could also be at play, although we won’t get to see that data again until Friday. 

The drop could be a sign of the classic “buy the rumor, sell the news” trading phenomenon with the upcoming Russian embargo, particularly given that exports have surged in recent weeks as buyers race to beat the deadline. 

There’s also a real possibility that there simply is not a fundamental reason at all for this price pullback, and it has more to do with the big speculative funds that can be the fair weather fans of commodity markets, or the trading algorithms that account for most daily volume being programmed to sell after an 82 cent rally from a low of $2.76 in early December to $3.58 last week.

Whatever the cause, ULSD is now breaking its weekly trendline that propelled prices higher for 7 weeks, and sets up a test of the January lows at $2.92 if they can’t manage a bounce in the next day or two.  Then again, if they do bounce, this 50 cent pullback in 5 trading days may be seen as nothing more than the latest big swing in an extraordinarily volatile market and a good buying opportunity for anyone that has a fuel budget.

Pretty much everyone expects the FED to raise rates by 25 basis points tomorrow, with the CME’s fedwatch tool showing a 99% probability of that outcome, and 85% that they’ll raise another 25 points in March.   The big question is whether or not the FED will be done raising rates after that, with traders fairly evenly split in their bets on the rates beyond the next two months.

Exxon, Marathon and P66 all reported earnings for Q4 today, and surprised no-one with their strong results, even though refining margins pulled back from the record levels set earlier in the year. 

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Market Talk Update 1.31.23

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Pivotal Week For Price Action
Market TalkFriday, Feb 23 2024

The DOE Report Sparked A Solid Rally In Energy Futures Thursday, But That Upward Momentum Proved Short-Lived

The DOE report sparked a solid rally in energy futures Thursday, but that upward momentum proved short-lived as prices gave back those gains overnight, despite US equity markets surging to all-time highs.

The weekly inventory report showed US refiners are struggling to come back online from a busy maintenance season that was further complicated by January’s cold snap and the unexpected shut down at BP Whiting. Refinery utilization held near 80% on the week, which helped pull gasoline inventories lower despite sluggish demand and a surge in imports along the East Coast. Diesel demand showed a big recovery from last week’s ugly estimate, and when you factor in the missing 4-5% that doesn’t show up due to RD not being included in the reports, actual consumption looks much healthier than the report suggests.

Based on reports of restarts at several major refineries this week, we should see those utilization numbers pick up in next week’s report.

The EPA Thursday approved year-round E15 sales in 8 corn-growing states, despite the fact that the extra ethanol blends have been shown more to pollute more in the warm times of the year. The effective date was pushed back a year however in a show of election-year tight rope walking, which the EPA couched as ensuring that the move wouldn’t lead to a spike in fuel prices this summer.

Of course, the law of unintended consequences may soon be at play in a region that tends to be long gasoline supply for large parts of the year. Removing 5% of the gasoline demand could be another nail in some of the smaller/less complex refineries’ coffins, which would of course make fuel supply less secure, which contradicts one of the main arguments for making more 198 proof grain alcohol and selling it as fuel. Ethanol prices meanwhile continue to slump to multi-year lows this week as low corn prices continue to push unusually high production, and the delayed effective date of this ruling won’t help that.

While Nvidia’s chip mania is getting much of the credit for the surge in equity prices this week, there was also good news for many more companies in reports that the SEC was planning to drop its requirements on Scope 3 emissions reporting which is particularly useful since most people still can’t figure out what exactly scope 3 emissions really are.

In today’s segment of you can’t make this stuff up: The case of chivalry gone wrong with the BP/TA acquisition, and a ketchup caddy company caught spoofing electric capacity.


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 TalkThursday, Feb 22 2024

Week 7 - US DOE Inventory Recap

Pivotal Week For Price Action
Market TalkThursday, Feb 22 2024

RBOB And ULSD Futures Down Around 2.5 Cents After A Mixed Performance Wednesday

Refined products are leading the energy complex lower to start Thursday’s trading with both RBOB and ULSD futures down around 2.5 cents after a mixed performance Wednesday.

The API reported another large build in crude oil inventories last week, with inventories up more than 7 million barrels while gasoline inventories increased by 415,000 barrels and diesel stocks dropped by 2.9 million. The crude oil build was no doubt aided once again by the shutdown of BP’s Whiting refinery that takes nearly ½ million barrels/day of oil demand out of the market. That facility is said to be ramping up operations this week, while full run rates aren’t expected again until March. The DOE’s weekly report will be out at 11am eastern this morning.

Too much or not enough? Tuesday there were reports that the KM pipeline system in California was forced to shut down two-line segments and cut batches in a third due to a lack of storage capacity as heavy rains have sapped demand in the region. Wednesday there were new reports that some products ran out of renewable diesel because of those pipeline delays, bringing back memories of the early COVID lockdown days when an excess of gasoline caused numerous outages of diesel.

The Panama Canal Authority has announced $8.5 billion in sustainability investments planned for the next 5 years. Most of those funds are aimed at sustainability efforts like modernizing equipment and installing solar panels, while around $2 billion is intended for a better water management system to combat the challenges they’ve faced with lower water levels restricting transit by 50% or more in the past year. More importantly in the near term, forecasts for the end of the El Nino pattern that contributed to a record drought, and the beginning of a La Nina pattern that tends to bring more rain to the region are expected to help improve water levels starting this summer.

The bad news is that La Nina pattern, coupled with historically warm water temperature has Accuweather forecasters sounding “Alarm Bells” over a “supercharged” hurricane season this year. Other years with a similar La Nina were 2005 which produced Katrina, Rita and Wilma and 2020 when we ran out of names, and the gulf Coast was repeatedly pummeled but markets didn’t react much due to the COVID demand slump. Perhaps most concerning for the refining industry is that unlike the past couple of years when Florida had the bullseye, the Texas coast is forecast to be at higher risk this year.

RIN prices continued their slide Wednesday morning, trading down to 38 cents/RIN before finally finding a bid that pushed values back to the 41-42 cent range by the end of the day.

The huge slide in RIN values showed up as a benefit in Suncor’s Q4 earnings report this morning, as the Renewable Volume Obligation for the company dropped to $4.75/barrel vs $8.55/barrel in Q4 of 2022. Based on the continued drop so far in 2024, expect that obligation to be nearly cut in half again. Suncor continued the trend of pretty much every other refiner this quarter, showing a dramatic drop in margins from the record-setting levels in 2022, but unlike a few of its counterparts over the past week was able to maintain positive earnings. The company noted an increase in refining runs after recovering from the Christmas Eve blizzard in 2022 that took down its Denver facility for months but did not mention any of the environmental challenges that facility is facing.

Valero’s McKee refinery reported a flaring event Wednesday that impacted multiple unites and lasted almost 24 hours. Meanwhile, Total reported more flaring at its Pt Arthur facility as that plant continues to struggle through restart after being knocked offline by the January deep freeze.

Speaking of which, the US Chemical Safety board released an update on its investigation into the fire at Marathon’s Martinez CA renewable diesel plant last November, noting how the complications of start -up leave refineries of all types vulnerable.

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