Diesel Bulls: A Major Cold Front is About To Sweep Across The Country, Which Will Certainly Stir Up Some Heating Demand

Market TalkFriday, Oct 27 2023
Pivotal Week For Price Action

Energy futures were jumping again overnight after US fighter jets hit Iranian-tied military targets in Syria, and the deal to lift sanctions in Venezuela already looks like it might be falling apart.

While the bulls have the early momentum, this latest in a series of rallies tied to fears of supply disruptions seems to be lacking the enthusiasm of earlier versions, and we’ll need to see another 8-10 cents of gains from refined products to break the downward trend on the weekly charts. 

What a difference a week makes: If you needed ULSD in the Group 3 market last Friday, you needed to pay $1.05-$1.15/gallon premium over the November Futures contract to hit an offer. Today, those same barrels are being offered for a $.01 discount. While much less dramatic, we have seen steady selling in most other regional basis markets as well as physical traders are having to offer lower differentials to overcome the backwardation in futures. One hope for the diesel bulls: A major cold front is about to sweep across the country with 30-40 degree temperature drops forecast, which will certainly stir up some heating demand.

We continue so see stronger values for space on Colonial pipeline as Gulf Coast refiners seem to be having a hard time moving their excess supply. Both Line 1 and 2 values reached their highest levels of the year this week, as lower basis values for both gasoline and diesel along the Gulf Coast opens up the arbitrage window to ship barrels to New York. It’s not uncommon to see stronger line space values throughout the winter months as the weak demand season puts downward pressure on Gulf Coast values. This year the added element of major turnarounds at 2 East Coast refineries is likely contributing to the early strength as well.

Ethanol prices were already coming under pressure this week following weakness in the corn market, and that selling accelerated after the DOE’s weekly report showed a jump in ethanol inventory and production. Values are once again hovering near 2-year lows as we head into what are traditionally the weaker months for demand which could put more downside pressure on alcohol prices.

Q3 earnings releases have been a mixed bag so far, with a general theme of healthy profits that are a far cry from last year’s record setting figures.  

Valero beat estimates as its refineries ran at 95% of capacity for the quarter and were able to capitalize on downtime at other facilities. The company’s renewable diesel operations saw nearly a 25% increase in volume from year ago levels, but profits were nearly cut in half as the drop in RIN and LCFS credits took a bite out of earnings. On the flip side, their ethanol earnings surged to nearly $200 million in the quarter from break even a year ago.  

P66 also had a strong showing with $1.7 of the total $2.1 billion in earnings from the quarter coming from its refining operations, although those results were below many wall street estimates

Exxon noted $2.4 billion in refining-related earnings for the quarter, up substantially from Q2 as its new Beaumont units helped the company hit record throughput rates along with strengthening crack spreads. An interesting bullet point in the Exxon earnings release was a negative mark-to-market impact on its trading operations, which will raise questions as the company’s relatively new strategy to leverage its trading expertise appears to be disappointing so far. 

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Market Talk Update 10.27.2023

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Pivotal Week For Price Action
Market TalkFriday, Dec 1 2023

“Buy The Rumor, Sell The News” Seems To Be The Trading Pattern Of The Week

“Buy the Rumor, Sell the News” seems to be the trading pattern of the week as oil and refined products dropped sharply Thursday after OPEC & Friends announced another round of output cuts for the first quarter of next year. 

Part of the reason for the decline following that report is that it appears that the cartel wasn’t able to reach an official agreement on the plan for next year, prompting those that could volunteer their own production cuts without forcing restrictions on others. In addition, OPEC members not named Saudi Arabia are notorious for exceeding official quotas when they are able to, and Russia appears to be (surprise) playing games by announcing a cut that is made up of both crude oil and refined products, which are already restricted and thus allow an incremental increase of exports. 

Diesel futures are leading the way lower this morning, following a 13-cent drop from their morning highs Thursday, and came within 3-cents of a new 4-month low overnight. The prompt contract did leave a gap on the chart due to the backwardation between December and January contracts, which cut out another nickel from up front values.

Gasoline futures meanwhile are down 15-cents from yesterday’s pre-OPEC highs and are just 7-cents away from reaching a new 1-year low.  

Cash markets across most of the country are looking soft as they often do this time of year, with double digit discounts to futures becoming the rule across the Gulf Coast and Mid Continent. The West Coast is mixed with diesel prices seeing big discounts in San Francisco, despite multiple refinery upsets this week, while LA clings to small premiums. 

Ethanol prices continue to hold near multi-year lows this week as controversy over the fuel swirls. Corn growing states filed a motion this week trying to compel the courts to force the EPA to waive pollution laws to allow E15 blends. Meanwhile, the desire to grow even more corn to produce Jet Fuel is being hotly debated as the environmental impacts depend on which side of the food to fuel lobby you talk to.

The chaotic canal congestion in Panama is getting worse as authorities are continuing to reduce the daily number of ships transiting due to low water levels. Those delays are hitting many industries, energy included, and are now spilling over to one of the world’s other key shipping bottlenecks.

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

Pivotal Week For Price Action
Market TalkThursday, Nov 30 2023

No Official Word From OPEC Yet On Their Output Agreement For Next Year

Energy prices are pushing higher to start Thursday’s session after a big bounce Wednesday helped the complex maintain its upward momentum for the week.   

There’s no official word from OPEC yet on their output agreement for next year, but the rumor-mill is in high gear as always leading up to the official announcement, if one is actually made at all. A Reuters article this morning suggests that “sources” believe Saudi Arabia will continue leading the cartel with a voluntary output cut of around 1-million BPD to begin the year and given the recent drop in prices that seems like a logical move. 

We saw heavy selling in the immediate wake of the DOE’s weekly report Wednesday, only to see prices reverse course sharply later in the day. ULSD was down more than 9-cents for a few minutes following the report but bounced more than 7-cents in the afternoon and is leading the push higher this morning so far.

It’s common to see demand drop sharply following a holiday, particularly for diesel as many commercial users simply shut down their operations for several days, but last week’s drop in implied diesel demand was one of the largest on record for the DOE’s estimates. That drop in demand, along with higher refinery runs, helped push diesel inventories higher in all markets, and the weekly days of supply estimate jumped from below the 5-year seasonal range around 25 days of supply to above the high end of the range at 37 days of supply based on last week’s estimated usage although it’s all but guaranteed we’ll see a correction higher in demand next week.

Gasoline demand also slumped, dropping to the low end of the seasonal range, and below year-ago levels for the first time in 5-weeks. You’d never guess that based on the bounce in gasoline prices that followed the DOE’s report however, with traders appearing to bet that the demand slump in a seasonal anomaly and tighter than average inventories may drive a counter-seasonal price rally.

Refinery runs increased across the country as plants returned to service following the busiest fall maintenance season in at least 4-years. While total refinery run rates are still below last year’s levels, they’re now above the 5-year average with more room to increase as no major upsets have been reported to keep a large amount of throughput offline.

The exception to the refinery run ramp up comes from PADD 4 which was the only region to see a decline last week after Suncor apparently had another inopportune upset at its beleaguered facility outside Denver. 

The 2023 Atlantic Hurricane season officially ends today, and it will go down as the 4th most active season on record, even though it certainly didn’t feel too severe given that the US dodged most of the storms.  

Today is also the expiration day for December 2023 ULSD and RBOB futures so look to the January contracts (RBF and HOF) for price direction if your market hasn’t already rolled.

More refineries ready to change hands next year?  With Citgo scheduled to be auctioned off, Irving Oil undergoing a strategic evaluation, and multiple new refineries possibly coming online, 2024 was already looking to be a turbulent year for refinery owners. Phillips 66 was indicating that it may sell off some of its refinery assets, but a new activist investor may upend those plans, along with the company’s directors.

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