Energy Futures Are Trading Lower To Start Monday’s Holiday-Shortened Trading Session

Market TalkMonday, Jan 15 2024
Pivotal Week For Price Action

Energy futures are trading lower to start Monday’s holiday-shortened trading session, adding to the bearish action we saw Friday when huge morning gains turned into afternoon losses. Reminder that futures are trading in an abbreviated session today, but there will not be a settlement today and spot markets are not being assessed. 

ULSD prices continue to be the most volatile in the complex, plunging 17 cents since topping out Friday morning. That sharp pullback leaves diesel futures in the middle of their winter trading range, and set for more choppy back and forth action.

RBOB gasoline futures have dropped more than a dime from Friday’s high, and are also looking neutral on the charts with a break above $2.20 or below $2 needed to provide some direction.

The US struck another Houthi target in Yemen Friday, and a fighter jet downed a missile aimed at one of the Naval destroyers in the region, but those events don’t seem to be enough to get buyers interested. 

As suspected, the refineries around the Texas Panhandle were all impacted by the severe weather with Valero Mckee, P66 Borger and Delek Big Spring all reporting operational upsets to the TCEQ over the weekend.  

In addition, Valero and Flint Hills both reported upsets at their Corpus Christi refineries but it’s not clear if those events were weather related and so far it appears that the rest of the Gulf Coast refiners haven’t been impacted. The real test for refinery row will come overnight tonight as lows in the Houston area are expected to drop to around 23 degrees which will stress equipment and the grid. The cold isn’t expected to last long however, so widespread supply disruptions still seem unlikely at this point.

Besides the refinery hiccups which appear relatively minor so far, there were numerous notices of terminal outages or restrictions due to the sub-zero temperatures stretching across so much of the country, but with many drivers staying off the roads due to the weather and the holiday, these events don’t seem too disruptive so far. The net impacts will take another day or two to assess, and with most traders taking today off since spot markets aren’t being assessed, we’ll have to wait until tomorrow to see the reaction in cash markets.

The Chevron Richmond refinery near San Francisco reported a 3rd upset in as many weeks Saturday. So far each of the events have had minimal impact on operations or regional prices, and the company said it expected no offsite impacts.

Short covering was the theme of the week in the CFTC’s Commitment of Traders report.  Money managers liquidated more than 29,000 crude oil contracts that had been betting on lower prices and added more than 29,000 new long positions in Brent, which largely offset the bets made the prior week. The big swings in large speculative money moving in and out of the energy space appear to be contributing to the knee-jerk price reactions over the events in the Red Sea and may help explain why the price rallies have been so fickle lately.

Baker Hughes reported a decline of 2 oil rigs and 1 natural gas rigs in the US last week, with the Permian basin accounting for the entire drop.  

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Market Talk Update 1.15.24

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Pivotal Week For Price Action
Pivotal Week For Price Action
Market TalkThursday, Feb 22 2024

RBOB And ULSD Futures Down Around 2.5 Cents After A Mixed Performance Wednesday

Refined products are leading the energy complex lower to start Thursday’s trading with both RBOB and ULSD futures down around 2.5 cents after a mixed performance Wednesday.

The API reported another large build in crude oil inventories last week, with inventories up more than 7 million barrels while gasoline inventories increased by 415,000 barrels and diesel stocks dropped by 2.9 million. The crude oil build was no doubt aided once again by the shutdown of BP’s Whiting refinery that takes nearly ½ million barrels/day of oil demand out of the market. That facility is said to be ramping up operations this week, while full run rates aren’t expected again until March. The DOE’s weekly report will be out at 11am eastern this morning.

Too much or not enough? Tuesday there were reports that the KM pipeline system in California was forced to shut down two-line segments and cut batches in a third due to a lack of storage capacity as heavy rains have sapped demand in the region. Wednesday there were new reports that some products ran out of renewable diesel because of those pipeline delays, bringing back memories of the early COVID lockdown days when an excess of gasoline caused numerous outages of diesel.

The Panama Canal Authority has announced $8.5 billion in sustainability investments planned for the next 5 years. Most of those funds are aimed at sustainability efforts like modernizing equipment and installing solar panels, while around $2 billion is intended for a better water management system to combat the challenges they’ve faced with lower water levels restricting transit by 50% or more in the past year. More importantly in the near term, forecasts for the end of the El Nino pattern that contributed to a record drought, and the beginning of a La Nina pattern that tends to bring more rain to the region are expected to help improve water levels starting this summer.

The bad news is that La Nina pattern, coupled with historically warm water temperature has Accuweather forecasters sounding “Alarm Bells” over a “supercharged” hurricane season this year. Other years with a similar La Nina were 2005 which produced Katrina, Rita and Wilma and 2020 when we ran out of names, and the gulf Coast was repeatedly pummeled but markets didn’t react much due to the COVID demand slump. Perhaps most concerning for the refining industry is that unlike the past couple of years when Florida had the bullseye, the Texas coast is forecast to be at higher risk this year.

RIN prices continued their slide Wednesday morning, trading down to 38 cents/RIN before finally finding a bid that pushed values back to the 41-42 cent range by the end of the day.

The huge slide in RIN values showed up as a benefit in Suncor’s Q4 earnings report this morning, as the Renewable Volume Obligation for the company dropped to $4.75/barrel vs $8.55/barrel in Q4 of 2022. Based on the continued drop so far in 2024, expect that obligation to be nearly cut in half again. Suncor continued the trend of pretty much every other refiner this quarter, showing a dramatic drop in margins from the record-setting levels in 2022, but unlike a few of its counterparts over the past week was able to maintain positive earnings. The company noted an increase in refining runs after recovering from the Christmas Eve blizzard in 2022 that took down its Denver facility for months but did not mention any of the environmental challenges that facility is facing.

Valero’s McKee refinery reported a flaring event Wednesday that impacted multiple unites and lasted almost 24 hours. Meanwhile, Total reported more flaring at its Pt Arthur facility as that plant continues to struggle through restart after being knocked offline by the January deep freeze.

Speaking of which, the US Chemical Safety board released an update on its investigation into the fire at Marathon’s Martinez CA renewable diesel plant last November, noting how the complications of start -up leave refineries of all types vulnerable.

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Pivotal Week For Price Action
Market TalkWednesday, Feb 21 2024

It’s A Mixed Start For Energy Markets To Start Wednesday’s Session After A Heavy Round Of Selling Tuesday

It’s a mixed start for energy markets to start Wednesday’s session after a heavy round of selling Tuesday. RBOB gasoline futures are clinging to modest gains in the early going while the rest of the complex is moving lower.  

WTI is pulling back for a 2nd day after reaching a 3.5 month high just shy of $80. The pullback pushes prompt values back below the 200-day moving average, reducing the likelihood of a breakout to the upside near term.

ULSD values are down nearly 10 cents for the week and are down more than 26 cents from the high trade set February 9th. That pullback leaves ULSD in neutral territory and could act as a headwind for gasoline prices that still seem poised to at least attempt a typical spring rally that adds roughly 20-30% from winter values.

RIN prices continue their slide this week, with D6 and D4 values reaching new 4-year lows around $.41/RIN Tuesday, which is down just slightly from the $1.62/RIN they were going for a year ago.

HF Sinclair reported a loss for Q4 this morning, with its refining and renewables segments each losing roughly $75 million for the quarter. The change from a year ago in the refining segment is a harsh reminder of the cyclical nature of the business as earnings dropped more than $800 million year on year, with inventory cost adjustments accounting for roughly ¼ of that decline.   

While it wasn’t mentioned in the press release, HFS has the most direct exposure to New Mexico’s recent approval of a clean fuel standard that will start in 2026. That law will no doubt help the company’s struggling Renewables assets in the state but will also create extra costs for their traditional refining operations.

The EIA this morning noted that conditions in the Panama Canal improved slightly in January, allowing Gulf Coast exports to Asia, primarily of Propane and ethane, to increase. While transit capacity is still far below levels we saw before the drought reduced operations in the canal, any improvement offers welcome relief to shippers as they can avoid going the long-way around to avoid the violence in the Red Sea.

France’s navy didn’t waste any time getting into the Red Sea action, shooting down a pair of Houthi Drones less than a day after joining the EU’s official mission to assist in clearing the shipping lanes. It’s not yet clear whether this marks the first official military victory by the French since Napoleon. 

Reminder that the weekly inventory reports are delayed a day due to the holiday Monday.

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