Conflicting Headlines And Inventory Data Points Continue To Confound The Market
Energy contracts had their biggest 1-day selloff since July on Wednesday as a steady round of selling that started Tuesday afternoon continued throughout the day. Just when it looked like that the bulls had thrown in the towel and we were in for a technical breakdown, prices have rallied sharply overnight, wiping out most of Wednesday’s big losses as conflicting headlines and inventory data points continue to confound the market.
No official announcement from OPEC yet, but most reports continue to show expectations that the cartel will stick with its current output plan, in spite of pressure from world leaders to increase more.
Headlines about Iran seem to be causing at least some of the whiplash in prices, with news of a return to nuclear negotiations getting credit for some of Wednesday’s selling, followed by Iran claiming that the US had tried to seize one of its oil tankers in the Sea of Oman reminding everyone that negotiating with Iran is a fool’s errand challenging.
Equity markets have rallied to new record highs after the FOMC made it clear that they still believe inflation levels at their highest levels in 30 years are still transitory, and that the FED can be patient with interest rate hikes. Even though the correlation between energy and equity markets has been close to zero in recent weeks, the market’s reaction to that statement does seem to take a fear-induced selloff off the table for now.
Who would ever guess that on a day when the DOE reported US Gasoline inventories reached a 4 year low, and PADD 1 inventories (home to the NYMEX delivery hub) reached a 7 year low, would also be the day when gasoline futures had their biggest daily drop in nearly 4 months. Of course, given the size of the rally over the past 1, 4 and 18 months, this seems a little bit like the market’s tendency to buy the rumor and sell the news, in this case pertaining to tightening supplies. This is also a good reminder that the futures market is less concerned about where we are today, than where we are headed, and with seasonal factors all pointing to gasoline stocks building steadily over the coming months, and high prices surely to dent consumption, it’s getting harder to see a reason to keep on betting on prices above a 7 year high.
Despite the big bounce this morning, charts near term continue to favor lower prices as refined products are setting lower lows and lower highs on the daily charts ever since prices peaked in late October. The $2.40 range for RBOB and $2.50 area for ULSD look to be good near term pivot points to watch. If prices can climb back above those levels, there’s a chance we see another run at the October highs, but if they can’t, another big move lower seems likely.
One more bearish factor to consider, it wasn’t just futures that were selling off heavily Wednesday, most cash markets saw basis values decline as well, pushing cash markets even further down on the day. When the big physical traders aren’t believing what the robots are doing the exchange, we’ll often see those diffs move contrary to futures, but yesterday’s action suggests that the concern of the winter demand doldrums for gasoline is real. No such concerns for ethanol prices however as spots continue to surge to record highs across the country, even as US ethanol output remains well above normal levels. While the ethanol forward curve has become murky due to a lack of trading in those futures, it looks like there’s 50-60 cents of backwardation between now and the end of the year, which means whenever the ethanol logistics logjam breaks there’s going to be a huge move lower in a hurry.