Concerns Over Refinery Issues Seemed To Be The Major Theme That Sparked The Rush Of Panic Buying Friday

Market TalkMonday, Aug 28 2023
Pivotal Week For Price Action

Energy prices are coming back to reality this morning after a runaway Friday rally got a bit out of control. ULSD futures led the way in both directions, adding 15 cents Friday to hit a new 7 month high at $3.3355, before pulling back by 7 cents this morning as cooler heads seem to be prevailing. Despite that pullback, the strong finish last week keeps the door open for a rally towards the 2023 high of $3.58 as long as prices can sustain their move north of $3.20 this week.

Concerns over refinery issues seemed to be the major theme that sparked the rush of panic buying Friday, although the forecast of a Hurricane reaching the Gulf of Mexico probably didn’t hurt even though it’s not a threat to most energy infrastructure.

The big story was a tank fire at Marathon’s 596mb/day plant in Garyville LA, which is the 3rd largest refinery in the country.  Even though the fire was in a storage tank, and not an operating unit, the reports that operations were temporarily suspended as a precaution created a flurry of buying activity just before the settlement Friday. Terminal operations at the plant resumed Friday evening which suggests the fire will not have a lasting impact on operations, which goes a long way to explain the pullback in prices this morning.

Meanwhile, two of the TCEQ frequent flyers both reported upsets Friday. The Valero Mckee refinery reported flaring after a power loss Friday afternoon, which occurred as the facility was attempting to finalize repairs after an upset earlier this month. Marathon’s Galveston Bay facility continues to struggle to go even 1 week without some sort of mishap, this time reporting a fuel oil leak inside a containment dike. Exxon reported an upset at an FCC unit in its Beaumont TX facility overnight that caused brief flaring, but no reported unit shutdowns.  

While the headlines were focused on Gulf Coast activities, the biggest price moves Friday were on the West Coast. Both LA and SF diesel basis saw big increases that pushed differentials and outright prices to their highest levels of the year even though the other US spot markets shrugged off the refinery news.

Tropical Storm Idalia formed off the Yucatan peninsula over the weekend and is expected to become a major hurricane before making landfall near Florida’s big bend early Wednesday morning. The storm is far enough east as it moves quickly through the Gulf of Mexico that it’s not a major threat to oil production and refining assets, although we can expect precautionary shutdowns of some offshore wells the next 2 days. 

Unlike last year’s Hurricane Ian, which spared the Tampa Bay area with a late shift in its path, this storm looks like it will keep Tampa on the eastern side meaning it will be pushing water inland which could be trouble for the terminals around the bay which are right on the water’s edge. Unfortunately, another type of storm at a local terminal has complicated efforts to fill up customer tanks ahead of this system. 

Hurricane Franklin has reached Major hurricane status this morning but is staying roughly 500 miles off of the East Coast as it makes its way north and does not appear to be a direct threat to land, although its high winds and waves could cause some challenges for vessels in the area. There’s another storm system given 50% odds of developing this week by the NHC off the West Coast of Africa, but it looks like it will be far enough north that it should stay out to sea.

Money managers reduced their speculative length (bets on higher prices) on most energy contracts last week with WTI, Brent, RBOB and Gasoil contracts all seeing declines. ULSD prices were the exception with new length added and old shorts reduced, pushing net length up by 17% on the week to a 22-month high. Open interest in refined products continues to increase with ULSD positions now at their highest level in 18-months.

Baker Hughes reported another large decline in the US drilling rig count with a net decrease of 8 oil rigs and 2 natural gas rigs last week. That decline brings the total count to a fresh 18 month low.

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

Market Talk Update 08.28.2023

News & Views

View All
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