Energy Futures Mixed Ahead Of DOE Report And Fed Announcement

Market TalkWednesday, Mar 22 2023
Pivotal Week For Price Action

Energy futures were calmly waiting on the FED’s 1pm announcement, like many markets around the world, with small and mixed results overnight. Diesel started to make a more meaningful rally attempt as we approach 8am central, moving higher for a 5th straight session, with stronger spreads signaling that refinery disruptions in Europe may finally be having some impact on prices now that most of the banking fears seem to have subsided.   

The CME’s Fedwatch tool shows that expectations for a rate increase have risen in the past week, with just 10% betting the FED will hold rates steady today compared to 45% a week ago when the banking crisis was stirring all sorts of fears.  It’s worth noting that there’s a 60% probability that the FED will raise rates by 50 points over the next 3 meetings, then 50% odds that rates will end up lower than they are now by the end of the year. 

The API estimated gasoline stocks dropped by 1 million barrels last week, while diesel declined by 1.8 million. Crude oil inventories increased by 3.2 million barrels on the week as production held steady near 12.2 million barrels/day. The EIA’s weekly report is due out at its normal time this morning. The agency is still struggling to get a consistent and accurate tally on crude oil inventories due to the growing impact of condensate production on both inventory and export readings. We should also see the largest increase in refinery capacity reported today after Exxon officially brought its new 250mb/day units online at Beaumont TX last week.

France is attempting to requisition refinery workers to get them back on the job and get energy supplies flowing again. After 2 weeks of strikes, the impacts on diesel and crude prices are starting to appear, albeit in much less dramatic fashion than we saw last fall. Both time spreads and crack spreads for diesel have been marching higher over the past week but remain just a fraction of what we saw last year.

The last day of March pipeline trading brought fireworks in the LA spot market Wednesday with a seller of EPA ULSD #2 trapped without any buyers and offering prices all the way down to a 50 cent/gallon discount to futures without a trade ever getting done. Meanwhile multiple bidders for CARB ULSD #2 appeared but no offers at the suddenly huge discounts appeared, leaving the market dislocated, and those making price assessments grasping for straws.   

April cycles should bring more liquidity, and many traders will be returning to the office following the annual AFPM (RIP NPRA) conference, so we should get a better feel for reality today. That said, more big swings are possible however as pipeline space to bring barrels east from LA is maxed out and a scramble for CBG gasoline to supply Phoenix taking up much more capacity than normal due to refinery downtime in other markets may leave diesel stuck at its origin points and put downward pressure on spot prices for the next month or so. The good news for consumers on the West Coast is that wholesale diesel prices are now down more than $2/gallon from where they were 6 months ago, which should help alleviate some of the pain they were feeling last year when retail values surged north of $6.

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Market Talk Update 03.22.2023

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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