Energy Futures Tumbling Again to Speculator's Chagrin

Market TalkMonday, Jan 30 2023
Pivotal Week For Price Action

Diesel futures are leading the energy complex lower for a 2nd straight day and have dropped 24 cents from Friday’s highs. In total, ULSD futures are down 39 cents from the highs set last Tuesday, and the bulls are now in rally-or-else territory as the 6-week-old trend line is suddenly under pressure. The moves for RBOB have been less dramatic, with gasoline prices “only” dropping 11 cents since Friday morning’s highs, which leaves more room to fall before gasoline threatens its weekly trend-lines.

The big selloff looks like it will have several hedge funds wishing for a do-over after adding to their bets on higher fuel prices last week. The big 5 NYMEX and ICE contracts all saw healthy increases in long positions held by money managers in the latest report from the CFTC, while Brent, WTI and ULSD contracts also saw heavy short covering, just before those bets on lower prices would have paid off.  

Open interest in crude and refined product contracts saw another week of healthy increases, making it appear that the recent reduction in volatility has more traders getting comfortable returning to the petroleum space after many bailed out during the chaotic trading in 2022.

The timing of this latest pullback in diesel prices is particularly curious given that we’re now less than a week away from the highly anticipated embargos on Russian distillates taking effect.  European imports of Russian diesel have surged in recent weeks to get supplies in before the restrictions take place, which may be causing some short-term excess supply, although longer term there are still major concerns about distillate supplies globally.

There’s another winter storm warning issued to oil and gas pipeline operators in Texas this week, but the freezing temperatures aren’t expected to extend south into the refinery zone along the Gulf Coast, so we should not see a widespread impact from this system like we did in December.   

A study published by the Environmental Integrity Project is getting a fair amount of press as it highlights the water pollution caused by US oil refineries and the failure of the EPA to enforce the Clean Water Act.  The study could end up being a catalyst that forces the EPA to update its 40-year-old standards for wastewater disposal or may be ignored if higher fuel prices become a bigger news story again this year.

Baker Hughes reported a drop of 4 oil rigs drilling in the US last week, offset for a 2nd straight week by an increase in natural gas drilling rigs. Notable this week was that the decline in oil drilling was almost all in waters off the Louisiana coast, while the Permian basin saw a net increase of 3 rigs. 

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Market Talk Update 01.30.2023

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Pivotal Week For Price Action
Market TalkWednesday, May 29 2024

The Texas Power Grid Is Once Again In The Forefront After Another Round Of Storms Left Hundreds Of Thousands Without Power Tuesday

It’s a quiet start to Wednesday’s trading, with refined products up less than a penny in the early going, following a healthy bounce Tuesday that alleviated concerns of a technical price breakdown near term.

A container ship transiting the Red Sea was heavily damaged by a Houthi Missile attack Tuesday. While energy markets continue to shrug off the shipping disruptions caused by those attacks, container ports around the world are feeling its effects and emissions from shipping are increasing along with the longer routes taken to avoid the conflict.

Consolidation continues: Less than a day after Hess shareholders approved its sale to Chevron, Conoco Phillips is reportedly in advanced negotiations to buy Marathon Oil for $22 billion. To avoid confusion, this does not have anything to do with the refining operations at Phillips 66 or Marathon Petroleum, both of which were spun off from their upstream exploration and production companies more than a decade ago. Meanwhile, acquisition activity in the Permian basin remains hotter than drilling activity as Energy Transfer agreed to buy WTG for more than $3 billion.

The Texas power grid is once again in the forefront after another round of storms left hundreds of thousands without power Tuesday. A Reuters article this morning highlights the record setting growth of renewable energy in Texas along with the record use of fossil-based sources to meet the state’s rapid demand increases. This phenomenon isn’t unique to the Lonestar state, with many in the industry believing that electricity demand from AI, Crypto and EV’s will drive the next energy supply squeeze in coming years.

Slowdown coming? The Dallas Fed’s Texas Manufacturing survey showed negative readings on output, new orders and the business conditions outlook in May.

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Pivotal Week For Price Action
Market TalkTuesday, May 28 2024

ULSD Is Leading The Move Higher This Morning With Prices Up Nearly A Nickel In The Early Going

Energy futures are attempting another recovery rally, with products up more than 7 cents from Friday’s early lows, while crude oil contracts have taken back $3/barrel over that time. ULSD is leading the move higher this morning with prices up nearly a nickel in the early going, while RBOB futures are up around 2.5 cents.

Money managers were adding net length in WTI, ULSD and Gasoil contracts last week with both new long positions and heavy short covering. Brent crude was a different story however with speculative net length in the European crude contract slashed by nearly 1/3 with nearly 33,000 new short positions added during the prior week. The big reduction in WTI shorts while Brent shorts are being added suggests the big play by hedge funds may be the WTI/Brent spread rather than bets on outright price movements.

Baker Hughes reported no change in the total oil rig count drilling in the US last week, holding steady at 497 vs 570 a year ago. Natural Gas rigs dropped by 4 on the week, reaching a 2 year low at 99 rigs, down from 137 this time last year. Natural gas prices have staged a big recovery from around $1.50/MMCF a month ago to $2.50 today, but current values are still not high enough to encourage drillers to get more active, particularly with more gas being produced from oil wells.

Deadly storms hit large parts of the country over the Holiday weekend, and continue this morning, but so far no reports of refinery damage from those systems has been reported. Marathon did report an upset in a Residual Hydrotreating unit at its Galveston Bay refinery Friday, but that event doesn’t appear to have slowed down the rest of the facility.

More bad news for US Bio producers: The EIA this morning highlighted the growth in biodiesel imports into the US from Europe – primarily Germany – as changing appetites for renewables and disjointed policies incent more barrels to travel long distances on diesel burning ships to find the highest tax credit value.

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Market TalkFriday, May 24 2024

Selling Continues In Energy Markets After Thursday's Reversal Rally Ran Out Of Steam In The Afternoon

The selling continues in energy markets after Thursday’s reversal rally ran out of steam in the afternoon, following the lead of U.S. equity markets which had a big sell-off on the day. Prices haven’t yet fallen below the multi-month lows we saw early last week, but we’re just a couple of cents away from those levels, and the potential technical trapdoor that could lead to sharply lower values over the next couple of weeks.

We did see a brief spike in gasoline futures after the settlement Thursday following reports that Colonial had shut down Line 4 due to an IT issue, but those gains were short-lived as the pipeline was restarted without issue a few hours later. Those who remember the chaos of May 2021 after Colonial was hacked are breathing a sigh of relief, particularly on one of the busiest demand days of the year, while others are no doubt disappointed we won’t get to see the rash of fake photos of people filling up plastic bags with gasoline.

OPEC & Friends (AKA the DoC) announced they’re moving June’s policy meeting to a virtual-only affair, which the market is taking as a signal of the status quo being held on output cuts.

Chicago being Chicago: Tuesday’s 60-cent basis spike was officially wiped out by Thursday afternoon, suggesting the short-lived rally was just short covering in an illiquid market rather than a meaningful supply disruption.

RIN values continued their rally this week, touching a 4-month high at 59 cents/RIN for both D4 and D6 values Thursday. If you believe in technical analysis on something like RINs, you can see a “W” pattern formed on the charts, suggesting a run to the 80-cent range is coming if prices can get above 60. If you are more of a fundamentalist, then you’ll probably think this rally is probably more short-term short-covering by producers of RD who have changed their schedule buying back their RIN hedges for volume they’re no longer planning to produce.

NOAA issued its most aggressive Hurricane forecast ever Thursday, joining numerous other groups that think a La Nina pattern and record warm waters will create more and bigger storms this year. With the activity level seeming to be a foregone conclusion at this point, now it’s all about where those storms hit to know if this busy season will be a huge factor in energy supplies like we saw in 2005, 2008, 2012 and 2017. With the Houston area already being bombarded by floods and deadly wind this year, the refinery row across the U.S. Gulf Coast seems even more vulnerable than normal to the effects of a storm.

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