How Long Will This Crude Chaos Last?

Market TalkTuesday, Apr 21 2020
Output Cut Plan Announced

May WTI is up $34/barrel this morning, the biggest rally in the 37 year history of the NYMEX contract. May WTI futures are up $34 this morning, and yet are still trading at a negative $3.50/barrel.

This ultimate lesson in the realities of futures contracts tied to physical delivery was provided in Monday’s epic 350% percent price drop, when the May WTI contract (which expires today) not only traded negative for the first time ever shortly after 1 p.m. central, but then traded at negative $40/barrel less than 20 minutes later.

Storage tanks at Cushing, OK – the delivery hub for the WTI contract - are on pace to reach maximum capacity in about a month – right when the May WTI contract would be due to deliver – meaning buyers became scarce as their ability to hold any additional barrels ran out and sellers were forced to pay in order to find someone to take those contracts off their hands. I’m sure there are plenty who will disagree with this point, but it seems that the negative value are a sign of free markets behaving as they should, and the physical delivery tied to futures contracts the ultimate tool to keep a market from being easily manipulated.

It’s likely we may never know who was caught in that unenviable position of paying nearly $1/gallon to sell crude oil futures, but it is certainly possible that the move may have caused, or perhaps was caused by, bankrupt companies being forced to liquidate positions. Perhaps a former FBI director will be hired to tell the tale someday like we saw in the aftermath of the 2008 debacle.

If you’re wondering how long this crude chaos may last, take a look at the forward curve chart below, and see the relative lack of reaction in values six months and more in the future, which also helps explain the minimal reaction in major oil company stock prices during Monday’s meltdown.

Today’s heavy selling in RBOB and ULSD seems to be at least in part the aftershocks of the WTI crash, with market players waking up to the reality that negative values can and do happen, and with U.S. gasoline inventories at record highs, there is a chance we could see a lack of storage options continuing to wreak havoc on both physical and futures prices until the country reopens.

Diesel prices meanwhile have reached a 17-year low overnight, caught up in the larger petroleum price swoon, even though U.S. diesel stocks are near the low end of their seasonal range. In some U.S. markets, we've already seen the lack of gasoline space creating diesel shortages due to pipeline and tankage constraints, and it appears that trend is likely to continue.

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Market TalkFriday, Jul 19 2024

Summertime-Friday-Apathy Trade Influencing Energy Markets

Energy markets are treading water to start the day as the Summertime-Friday-Apathy trade seems to be influencing markets around the world in the early going. RBOB futures are trying for a 3rd straight day of gains to wipe out the losses we saw to start the week, while ULSD futures continue to look like the weak link, trading lower for a 2nd day and down nearly 3 cents for the week.

Bad to worse: Exxon’s Joliet refinery remains offline with reports that repairs may take through the end of the month. On top of that long delay in restoring power to the facility, ENT reported this morning that the facility has leaked hydrogen fluoride acid gas, which is a dangerous and controversial chemical used in alkylation units. Chicago basis values continue to rally because of the extended downtime, with RBOB differentials approaching a 50-cent premium to futures, which sets wholesale prices just below the $3 mark, while ULSD has gone from the weakest in the country a month ago to the strongest today. In a sign of how soft the diesel market is over most of the US, however, the premium commanded in a distressed market is still only 2 cents above prompt futures.

The 135mb Calcasieu Refinery near Lake Charles LA has been taken offline this morning after a nearby power substation went out, and early reports suggest repairs will take about a week. There is no word yet if that power substation issue has any impacts on the nearby Citgo Lake Charles or P66 Westlake refineries.

Two tanker ships collided and caught fire off the coast of Singapore this morning. One ship was a VLCC which is the largest tanker in the world capable of carrying around 2 million barrels. The other was a smaller ship carrying “only” 300,000 barrels (roughly 12 million gallons) of naphtha. The area is known for vessels in the “dark fleet” swapping products offshore to avoid sanctions, so a collision isn’t too surprising as the vessels regularly come alongside one another, and this shouldn’t disrupt other ships from transiting the area.

That’s (not) a surprise: European auditors have determined the bloc’s green hydrogen goals are unattainable despite billions of dollars of investment, and are based on “political will” rather than analysis. Also (not) surprising, the ambitious plans to build a “next-gen” hydrogen-powered refinery near Tulsa have been delayed.

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Market TalkThursday, Jul 18 2024

Refined Products Stanch Bleeding Despite Inventory Builds And Demand Slump

Refined products are trading slightly lower to start Thursday after they stopped the bleeding in Wednesday’s session, bouncing more than 2 cents on the day for both RBOB and ULSD, despite healthy inventory builds reported by the DOE along with a large slump in gasoline demand.

Refinery runs are still above average across the board but were pulled in PADD 3 due to the short-term impacts of Beryl. The Gulf Coast region is still outpacing the previous two years and sitting at the top end of its 5-year range as refiners in the region play an interesting game of chicken with margins, betting that someone else’s facility will end up being forced to cut rates before theirs.

Speaking of which, Exxon Joliet was reportedly still offline for a 3rd straight day following weekend thunderstorms that disrupted power to the area. Chicago RBOB basis jumped by another dime during Wednesday’s session as a result of that downtime. Still, that move is fairly pedestrian (so far) in comparison to some of the wild swings we’ve come to expect from the Windy City. IIR via Reuters reports that the facility will be offline for a week.

LA CARBOB differentials are moving in the opposite direction meanwhile as some unlucky seller(s) appear to be stuck long and wrong as gasoline stocks in PADD 5 reach their highest level since February, and held above the 5-year seasonal range for a 4th consecutive week. The 30-cent discount to August RBOB marks the biggest discount to futures since 2022.

The EIA Wednesday also highlighted its forecast for rapid growth in “Other” biofuels production like SAF and Renewable Naptha and Propane, as those producers capable of making SAF instead of RD can add an additional $.75/gallon of federal credits when the Clean Fuels Producer’s Credit takes hold next year. The agency doesn’t break out the products between the various “Other” renewable fuels, but the total projected output of 50 mb/day would amount to roughly 2% of total Jet Fuel production if it was all turned to SAF, which of course it won’t as the other products come along for the ride similar to traditional refining processes.

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Pivotal Week For Price Action