News & Views
Week 15 - US DOE Inventory Recap
Lack Of Enthusiasm From Gasoline And Crude Oil Prices
If at first you don’t succeed…Diesel prices are trying to lead the energy complex higher this morning, after rally attempts stalled out Monday and Tuesday. This time could be different, however, as ULSD futures have broken the top side of their month old sideways trading range in the early going, which could spark some buying from trading programs and bandwagon jumpers. If diesel futures can hold above the $1.84 mark today, there’s a good chance we will see them push into the mid $1.90s in the next week, but if they fail, it seems like we’ll be stuck back in the sideways range for a while longer.
A lack of enthusiasm from gasoline and crude oil prices seems to be a limiting factor in the diesel rally so far. RBOB futures have managed to move higher in the past five sessions, and yet the combined gains during that stretch are less than three cents, suggesting a lack of conviction from buyers after prices doubled from November to March.
The IEA’s monthly oil market report followed the lead of the EIA and OPEC monthly reports, increasing global fuel demand estimates as vaccine & stimulus package rollouts are getting people moving again. The IEA’s report did highlight concerns that rising case counts in Europe, Brazil and India could slow the demand recovery, and noted that excess supply capacity from OPEC and the U.S. should help keep prices from getting too high. The IEA also highlighted that Iran’s oil production has reached a two year high as the country is finding ways to get around U.S. sanctions, which could bring more downward pressure to prices if that trend continues.
The EIA this morning highlighted several new oil projects in the Gulf of Mexico that could bring 200mb/day of production online by the end of next year, which is a completely different outlook than a year ago when many projects were shutting down. The report also highlights the threat hurricanes create to GOM production, as early forecasts call for another above-average season for storm activity, after we just lived through the most active season on record.
Chicago-area refineries are making news this week. The DOJ announced a settlement deal with ExxonMobil and the state of Illinois that requires Exxon to pay $1.5 million in fines, and spend $10 million in upgrades to its Joliet facility. The headline writers are touting this as the new administration’s tough stance on the energy industry, but in reality this settlement stems from an agreement made 12 years ago. Meanwhile, BP is reportedly selling off a major stake in its U.S. pipeline assets, as it continues to shed assets to pay down debt, cover severance payments from their annual reorganizations and continue paying their $1.2 annual settlement the 2010 Gulf of Mexico oil spill.
Meanwhile, two midcontinent refining companies still aren’t getting along taking with the war of words and shareholder votes between Carl Icahn backed CVR and Delek being taken to the court of public opinion, proving that there’s apparently more money to be made through financial engineering of refining-related companies than there is in engineering those refineries to make more product.
Stock Futures Pull Back Following Vaccine News
The sideways action continues in energy markets after an attempted rally Monday morning failed to build any momentum and most gains were wiped out in the afternoon. This morning it’s the RBOB gasoline contract trying to lead the rest of the complex higher, with penny gains while ULSD moves back and forth across the breakeven line. Charts continue to give a neutral outlook, suggesting more back and forth trading in the near future.
There are lots of headlines about the U.S. looking to pause use of the J&J COVID vaccine, and while stock futures did pull back overnight following that news, the moves have been minor and don’t seem to be having any trickle-down effect on energy markets at this point.
OPEC increased its global demand estimates in the latest monthly oil market report saying, “Gasoline is projected to be the key driver for oil demand recovery beginning with the onset of the summer driving season. Diesel will also provide support, mostly based on economic improvements stemming from the implementation of fiscal stimulus programmes.” The report also highlighted the recovery in U.S. refinery margins over the past two months, while European and Asian refiners have not seen the same improvement. The cartel’s oil production was up 200mb/day in March, driven primarily by an increase in Iranian output as they’ve found new ways to circumvent U.S. sanctions.
Speaking of Iranian production, there was another mysterious outage at an Iranian nuclear site over the weekend, with multiple sources suggesting another cyber-attack from Israel is to blame, just as the U.S. reopened negotiations with Iran over its nuclear program. This latest development might mean a deal is less likely and could delay the return of more Iranian oil to the market.
The beleaguered Suncor refinery outside Denver looks to have passed a big emissions test with an investigation finding the facility met its environmental permits. While that’s certainly good news, the plant is still facing lawsuits over water contamination in the community, just as it seeks extensions of its operating permits from the state. Refiners in the Midwest will be watching this story closely as the Denver metro area has become a popular home for the excess supply coming from Group 3 refineries, and removing the only refinery left in Colorado off-line would mean big opportunities for those plants.
Add another renewable diesel production facility to the growing list. Unlike most of the others that have been announced in the past couple of years however, this facility may not be sending the majority of its fuel to California, as that country’s clean fuel standard is set to start next year and will offer its own incentives for renewables.
Diesel Futures Try To Lead The Energy Complex Higher
Diesel futures are trying to lead the energy complex higher to start the week, testing the upper end of their sideways trading range, after chart support held up to several attempted sell-offs last week. There’s little in the way of news to drive the action so far, and it seems that we’re still stuck in the back and forth pattern until the range breaks.
While gasoline and diesel prices continue to move sideways, ethanol prices are holding at multi-year highs north of $2/gallon in most U.S. markets, thanks to elevated corn prices and RIN Values holding near all-time highs. Several ethanol producers that shut down operations when prices were in the $.70-$.80 cent range this time last year are coming back online to take advantage of these lofty prices, which will only increase pressure on feedstock producers to supply the parade of new renewable diesel projects racing to take advantage of the subsidies provided to turn food into fuel.
Baker Hughes reported no change in the total U.S. count of active oil rigs last week. The Eagle Ford basin in TX did increase its count by one rig, while the “other” category made up of smaller basins declined by one. A Rystad energy report released Friday suggested that fracking activities across the U.S. are approaching pre-pandemic levels, and that output should continue to increase in the second quarter, which is not surprising given current prices. What is more surprising is that flaring from those wells is down substantially as producers are beginning to catch up with the infrastructure needed to deal with the excess natural gas produced in those operations.
Money managers continue to display mixed feelings for energy contracts, which isn’t too hard to understand given the yo-yo price action we’ve seen in recent weeks. The large speculative category of trader decreased their net long position in WTI, Brent and Gasoil last week by relatively small amounts, but added to their bets on higher priced for RBOB and ULSD.
Houthi rebels launched more attacks on Saud Arabia overnight, this time targeting an area with several refineries. It’s not immediately clear what if any damage was done to those facilities, but given the limited impact of several recent attacks, the market does not appear too concerned.
Today’s interesting read: Why closing a nuclear power plant in New York will increase natural gas consumption, and may cause more diesel demand spikes when electricity demand peaks.
Too Many Imports?
Energy prices appear to be calming after a spike in volatility over the past few weeks, and are starting off Friday’s session with modest losses. Prices remain in their sideways trading range, which means we’re likely to continue seeing back and forth action until a new trend develops.
U.S. equity markets meanwhile are having no problem finding direction, hitting fresh record highs this week, cheered on by signs that the economy continues to reopen even as pockets of the country deal with new COVID outbreaks, and in no small part to the $6 trillion or so in monetary and fiscal stimulus provided by the FED and Congress over the past year.
Too many imports? While most cash markets for gasoline have held relatively steady this week, basis values for NYH RBOB have dropped eight cents this week as it appears there’s too much higher RVP gasoline in the region just one week before trading switches over to the summer-grade products. There was a record surge in gasoline imports following the great refinery shutdown in February, and the Buckeye pipeline disruption in March, and this selloff suggests perhaps some suppliers are worried they brought in too much fuel from overseas and won’t be able to turn their tanks in time.
The EIA this morning is highlighting its STEO gasoline demand forecast that suggests consumption will be notably better than last summer, but still behind 2019.
It’s hard to read anything about the energy markets without a renewable component being factored in. A Reuters article this morning highlights the looming shortage of feedstocks for bio-based fuels as producers rush to take advantage of the lofty incentives available from the various federal and state programs that provide more than $5/gallon for some products depending on where they’re sold.
Another refinery casualty? Exxon announced Thursday it was considering shutting down its plant in Norway due to the overcapacity of refining in Europe.
Gas Prices Survive Trip To Low End Of Trading Range
The back and forth pattern continues after gasoline prices survived a trip to the low end of their trading range Wednesday. Large builds in refined products and a pullback in demand sparked a wave of selling following yesterday’s DOE report, but as has been the case for the past three weeks, buyers stepped in as prices approached chart support levels and ended the trading session on a strong note.
It’s a mixed bag so far today with crude and diesel prices showing small losses, while gasoline has small gains. Reports of an unplanned shutdown of a refinery in Louisiana this morning seem to be helping RBOB prices go from small losses to modest gains on the day, and helping push gasoline time and crack spreads higher just as you’d expect when there’s a supply disruption. No details yet on the cause or duration of that shutdown.
Want a reason why yesterday’s gasoline inventory build isn’t something refiners need to worry about? Take a look at the gasoline import chart below, which shows an increase of 4.7 million barrels in total last week, which suggests the four million barrels build in total inventories isn’t a trend that will continue.
More bad news for the beleaguered refinery formerly known as Hovensa. Several executives are reportedly stepping down after the plant was forced to shut last week, and lost an expansion permit previously granted by the EPA. That may be good news for other refiners around the Atlantic basin if it’s a sign that the plant won’t operate, but could also just be a sign that the company is in the process of finding more capable operators.
The new U.S. corporate tax overhaul proposed Wednesday will (not surprisingly) look to increase incentives for renewable energy producers, and pay for it by removing incentives for energy produced from fossil fuels. With
Meanwhile, the ports of Vancouver, Seattle and Tacoma laid out their plan to jump on the zero emission by 2050 bandwagon, focusing specifically on pushing ships to run on electricity while docked rather than idling their diesel engines to produce power. It does not appear that plan has detailed where that extra electricity will come from, or how it will be emissions free.
Week 14 - US DOE Inventory Recap
Choppy Back And Forth Action Continues
Choppy back and forth action continues to be the theme for energy prices, but a late Tuesday sell-off after a strong morning has put the complex in danger of a breakdown that could push prices another 10% (or more) lower should chart support finally break. That said, we’ve seen prices test the bottom end of the trading range four times in the past three weeks and bounce each time, just as they seem to be doing so far this morning.
The weak close for refined products Tuesday that largely wiped out nickel+ gains earlier in the session looked prophetic two hours later in the afternoon when the API was reported to show large builds for gasoline and diesel inventories last week. The DOE’s weekly report is due out at its normal time this morning, with refinery runs still and gasoline demand estimates still must read data points.
The EIA released its short term energy outlook Tuesday, predicting that gasoline consumption will continue to rise through the summer driving season, but will fail to approach levels we saw in 2019. The report also predicts that U.S. crude oil output will steadily increase through 2022, but will remain nearly a million barrels/day below where we saw it prior to the pandemic.
After an extremely volatile couple of weeks, RINs have been relatively quiet so far this week, with both D4 and D6 values moving up “only” 2.5-3 cents the past two days. Meanwhile, there’s a new diva in the credit markets as California’s LCFS credits took a nosedive Tuesday, dropping $14/MT for some delivery timings before buyers stepped in, making the trading range for the day wider than it had been so far for the year. There was not any regulatory-type news to spark the move that pushed those credits to their lowest levels since last year’s lockdown first hit, but the selling was widespread across time frames, suggesting it may not be isolated to one large position being unwound, and there could be more downside ahead.
The spot/rack charts for ULSD below show the divergence in markets across the southwest following the extremely tight physical market in the region for most of the past two months. El Paso and Phoenix markets are now back hovering around break-even levels for shipping economics, while chronically constrained Las Vegas and Albuquerque are still seeing wide spreads as the pipelines that supply those locations just aren’t able to keep up.
The Daily Price Tug-Of-War
The yo-yo action continues as energy futures are bouncing Tuesday, after another round of heavy selling on Monday. Part of the daily price tug of war seems to be driven by COVID divergence with the U.S. opening up for business just as Europe is shutting down. Depending on which side of the pond you’re on, that gives a very different outlook for fuel demand.
From a technical perspective, petroleum contracts have been stuck in a sideways trading range ever since the bull market trend broke mid-March and this type of back and forth action should be expected until a breakout occurs. That sideways pattern is fairly well defined for WTI and ULSD ($57-$62 and $1.73-$1.84 respectively) but RBOB is more broad between $1.86 and $2.04 setting the boundaries we’ll need to see broken down before the next trend can begin.
U.S. stocks are not as conflicted as energy markets, reaching new records this week. The rapid recovery in the U.S. will not come without pain however, as supply networks face challenges keeping up with the rapid change in demand, just as we’re seeing with the growing backlog of ships at major U.S. ports.
While fuel supplies are getting back to more normal levels across the south, there are still a few refineries struggling to return units to service six weeks after the Polar Plunge.
Today’s interesting read: Why tax incentives won’t help the real problem expanding the electric grid. No one wants giant transmission lines in their backyard.
Pre-Holiday Gains Wiped Out After Post-Holiday Trading
The rollercoaster ride continues for energy markets as big pre-holiday gains were wiped out in the first few hours of post-holiday trading, only to see refined product prices bounce three cents in the past hour.
While energy markets continue to swing back and forth, equity markets are pointed sharply higher with the DJIA and S&P 500 both pointing to record highs this morning, celebrating a strong March jobs report, which wasn’t too strong as to encourage the FED to think about raising rates.
OPEC and its allies agreed to a gradual increase in production last week, predicting stronger demand this summer while trying to avoid flooding the market too soon. That announcement was seen as bullish since the cartel was showing restraint and not returning more of its idle capacity to the market even with prices back to pre-COVID highs.
The U.S. and Iran are returning to the negotiating table, via intermediaries, for the first time in three years. That slight bit of progress is getting some credit for the early wave of selling since it could eventually lead to more Iranian crude hitting the market that’s trapped by sanctions today.
Baker Hughes reported an increase of 13 drilling rigs last week as the industry continues its slow and steady recovery. Unlike most weeks where the Permian basin accounts for the majority of the drilling activity, last week the gains were spread out across numerous states like Colorado, Utah, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, and offshore in Louisiana. Even though we’ve seen more than 150 rigs put back to work since the count bottomed out last summer, we’re still roughly 300 rigs shy of where we were pre-COVID, and just over the lowest levels from the previous oil price crash.
Money managers look like they weren’t enjoying the rollercoaster ride for energy prices, reducing their long and short positions across the board last week. There was more short covering in most contracts causing the net length held by the large speculators to increase slightly on the week for WTI and Brent.
There will be plenty of debate in the weeks ahead on the $2 trillion spending bill proposed, particularly around the renewable energy components included. Most of the funds so far seem focused on expanding capacity for renewable electricity generation and transmission, but expect transportation fuels to become part of the debate. The White House has already reportedly instructed the EPA to review whether fuels used to power EVs could qualify to generate RINs under the RFS, which will no doubt be hotly contested.
Yo-Yo Action Continues In Energy Markets
The yo-yo action continues in energy markets this week after March trading ended with heavy selling, only to see those losses erased in the first few hours of April.
The OPEC policy meeting is today, which will often add to volatility as rumors and speculation run rampant ahead of the official announcement, if they decide to make one. We’re also heading into a rare holiday weekend that will include the March jobs report when markets are closed, which could create some more swings when trading resumes Sunday night.
Yesterday’s DOE report offered good news for both demand and supply in the U.S., as gasoline consumption hit a six month high, and supplies look like they’re almost back to normal levels.
Total U.S. refinery runs have finally returned to the levels we saw six weeks ago before Texas froze over. PADD 3 (Gulf Coast) run rates are still slightly below where they were prior to the storm as several units are still being repaired, but total runs in the region did increase by more than 550mb/day last week.
Those increased run rates can be felt from West Texas to Philadelphia as allocations begin to ease and outages become more rare this week. Colonial pipeline reported earlier in the week that supplies along its system were increasing, alleviating some of the pressure on markets across the South East, but would still need more product input along the Gulf Coast to get back to normal run rates.
Speaking of pressure on Colonial, the PHMSA released a proposed safety order warning Colonial that it must take measures to reduce potential risk along its system after a study of last year’s gasoline leak that ended up being a much bigger deal than originally thought. This report may be much ado about nothing as Colonial has already implemented safety measures, and was using the recent slowdown in operating rates to perform more maintenance, but it will be important to keep an eye on given its outsized influence on supply across a huge part of the country, not to mention the growing list of disruptions over the past five years.
Another sign that things are getting back to normal on the supply side of the economic equation, imports of petroleum products dropped back closer to their seasonal average after hitting their highest levels in a decade following the polar plunge.
RIN prices also continued their rollercoaster ride Wednesday, taking back 6-8 cents of the losses they faced earlier in the week, as lower than forecast planting estimates in the quarterly crop report had grains and soybean oil trading limit up on the day. No word yet if Mr. Beeks had been consulted on the crop report since those products were selling off sharply ahead of the report which certainly has several traders wishing for a do over.