Why Are Gasoline Prices Moving Lower Today?

Market TalkFriday, May 1 2020
Why Are Gasoline Prices Moving Lower Today?

A bumpy and disorganized overnight trading session seems to be a fitting way to start the month of May, as much of the world treads cautiously towards the beginning stages of reopening after six weeks of lock-down. May Day celebrations around the world will keep trading volumes lighter than normal today, adding to the choppy action.

Most energy contracts were selling off overnight only to rally back in the past hour, with June WTI breaking north of the $20 mark for the first time since the Monday melt-down. Refined products are also struggling for direction, with nickel trading ranges in the early going and mixed results across the contracts.

A good lesion in the difference between futures and physical prices: The expiration of the May RBOB and ULSD contracts in the midst of a super contango means the June contracts are trading some seven to 11 cents higher than where May left off, but those values don’t carry over to cash markets which are seeing minimal change so far today. This phenomenon is often misunderstood, and not often talked about since in normal times the calendar spreads in futures are a small fraction of where they are today. Ask anyone who was invested in the U.S. Oil ETF last week if they understand this lesson now.

Small oil companies in the U.S. have been defying the odds for years, outpacing production estimates consistently thanks to new drilling technology. It’s little wonder that these companies are now once again exceeding estimates in their ability to shut-in production faster than expected, which should help alleviate some of the near term storage concerns. There’s a new lifeline for some of these producers as one of several new Federal Reserve lending programs has been opened to the industry this week.

The opposite of a small oil company, ExxonMobil, released earnings this morning, showing a quarterly loss for the first time in years due to a $2.9 billion non-cash write down of inventory values. The statement noted weaker refining margins both in the U.S. and around the world, but its total downstream margins were high thanks to “favorable mark-to-market derivatives and improved manufacturing on lower scheduled maintenance.”

Wondering why May RBOB settled lower Thursday even when prices were higher at the close? Read about the difference in settlement procedures on expiration day here. That will also help explain why gasoline prices are moving lower today, even while a comparison to May’s settlement makes it appear that RBOB futures are sharply higher on the day. April was a month that broke the charts, so it seems fitting to end it with more confusion.

Normal Daily Settlement Procedure

NYMEX RBOB Gasoline (RB) futures are settled by CME Group staff based on trading activity on CME Globex during the settlement period. The settlement period is defined as: 14:28:00 to 14:30:00 ET for the Active Month and 14:28:00 to 14:30:00 ET for calendar spreads.

Final Settlement Calculation for Expiring Contract

On the day of expiration, the expiring month will settle based on the VWAP of the outright CME Globex trades executed between 14:00:00 and 14:30:00 ET.

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

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The Recovery Rally In Energy Markets Continues For A 3rd Day

The recovery rally in energy markets continues for a 3rd day with refined product futures both up more than a dime off of the multi-month lows we saw Wednesday morning. The DJIA broke 40,000 for the first time ever Thursday, and while it pulled back yesterday, US equity futures are suggesting the market will open north of that mark this morning, adding to the sends of optimism in the market.

Despite the bounce in the back half of the week, the weekly charts for both RBOB and ULSD are still painting a bearish outlook with a lower high and lower low set this week unless the early rally this morning can pick up steam in the afternoon. It does seem like the cycle of liquidation from hedge funds has ended however, so it would appear to be less likely that we’ll see another test of technical support near term after this bounce.

Ukraine hit another Russian refinery with a drone strike overnight, sparking a fire at Rosneft’s 240mb/day Tuapse facility on the black sea. That plant was one of the first to be struck by Ukrainian drones back in January and had just completed repairs from that strike in April. The attack was just one part of the largest drone attack to date on Russian energy infrastructure overnight, with more than 100 drones targeting power plants, fuel terminals and two different ports on the Black Sea. I guess that means Ukraine continues to politely ignore the White House request to stop blowing up energy infrastructure in Russia.

Elsewhere in the world where lots of things are being blown up: Several reports of a drone attack in Israel’s largest refining complex (just under 200kbd) made the rounds Thursday, although it remains unclear how much of that is propaganda by the attackers and if any impact was made on production.

The LA market had 2 different refinery upsets Thursday. Marathon reported an upset at the Carson section of its Los Angeles refinery in the morning (the Carson facility was combined with the Wilmington refinery in 2019 and now reports as a single unit to the state, but separately to the AQMD) and Chevron noted a “planned” flaring event Thursday afternoon. Diesel basis values in the region jumped 6 cents during the day. Chicago diesel basis also staged a recovery rally after differentials dropped past a 30 cent discount to futures earlier in the week, pushing wholesale values briefly below $2.10/gallon.

So far there haven’t been any reports of refinery disruptions from the severe weather than swept across the Houston area Thursday. Valero did report a weather-related upset at its Mckee refinery in the TX panhandle, although it appears they avoided having to take any units offline due to that event.

The Panama Canal Authority announced it was increasing its daily ship transit level to 31 from 24 as water levels in the region have recovered following more than a year of restrictions. That’s still lower than the 39 ships/day rate at the peak in 2021, but far better than the low of 18 ships per day that choked transit last year.

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

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Energy prices found a temporary floor after hitting new multi-month lows Wednesday morning as a rally to record highs in US equity markets and a modestly bullish DOE report both seemed to encourage buyers to step back into the ring.

RBOB and ULSD futures both bounced more than 6 cents off of their morning lows, following a CPI report that eased inflation fears and boosted hopes for the stock market’s obsession of the FED cutting interest rates. Even though the correlation between energy prices and equities and currencies has been weak lately, the spillover effect on the bidding was clear from the timing of the moves Wednesday.

The DOE’s weekly report seemed to add to the optimism seen in equity markets as healthy increases in the government’s demand estimates kept product inventories from building despite increased refinery runs.

PADD 3 diesel stocks dropped after large increases in each of the past 3 weeks pushed inventories from the low end of their seasonal range to average levels. PADD 2 inventories remain well above average which helps explain the slump in mid-continent basis values over the past week. Diesel demand showed a nice recovery on the week and would actually be above the 5 year average if the 5% or so of US consumption that’s transitioned to RD was included in these figures.

Gasoline inventories are following typical seasonal patterns except on the West Coast where a surge in imports helped inventories recover for a 3rd straight week following April’s big basis rally.

Refiners for the most part are also following the seasonal script, ramping up output as we approach the peak driving demand season which unofficially kicks off in 10 days. PADD 2 refiners didn’t seem to be learning any lessons from last year’s basis collapse and rapidly increased run rates last week, which is another contributor to the weakness in midwestern cash markets. One difference this year for PADD 2 refiners is the new Transmountain pipeline system has eroded some of their buying advantage for Canadian crude grades, although those spreads so far haven’t shrunk as much as some had feared.

Meanwhile, wildfires are threatening Canada’s largest oil sands hub Ft. McMurray Alberta, and more than 6,000 people have been forced to evacuate the area. So far no production disruptions have been reported, but you may recall that fires in this region shut in more than 1 million barrels/day of production in 2016, which helped oil prices recover from their slump below $30/barrel.

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Click here to download a PDF of today's TACenergy Market Talk, including all charts from the Weekly DOE Report.

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