Hurricane Laura Threatens U.S. Refineries

Market TalkTuesday, Aug 25 2020
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Gasoline prices are approaching six-month-highs as Hurricane Laura poses the biggest threat to U.S. refineries since Hurricane Harvey three years ago. Oil and diesel prices are moving higher as well, but are not keeping pace with gasoline – which is often the case in storm situations – and seem somewhat dubious about the long term impact this storm may have on an oversupplied market. 

The Nasdaq and S&P 500 reached new record highs as trade and virus optimism kept the trend lines pointing higher, while the DJIA is undergoing a major overhaul. In the latest sign of the COVID market fallout, ExxonMobil is being removed from the DJIA, while Salesforce (dot com) will now be included. 

While Marco fizzled out and spared Louisiana, Laura was upgraded to a Hurricane this morning, and 13 percent of the country’s refining capacity is in the direct path of the storm based on the latest models. The current forecasts have the storm coming on shore Thursday morning, as a category 3 “major” hurricane, just east of Port Arthur, TX. Plants in the Port Arthur/Beaumont hub have announced that they are reducing rates and/or idling units until the storm passes. The path of the storm could actually be just as troublesome, if not more, for plants around Lake Charles, LA, as they are on the more dangerous side of the storm, and could get a worse surge/flooding than the plants closer but on the west side. There is still a wide cone of uncertainty with this storm’s path, and even the Houston-area plants could still be impacted if the storm shifts further west.

Those plants that can continue operating are suddenly seeing their best margins in five months, a much needed relief for plants struggling to stay afloat financially. The economic hardship of refineries is one reason Laura’s impacts may not be as widespread as we might normally expect, since there’s at least one million barrels/day of capacity already idled due to weak demand, which should allow for some plants to increase rates and help offset the losses from others. In addition, many Gulf Coast refineries now rely on exports for nearly 20 percent of their production, so they will need to bring more product inland until ports can reopen.  

That said, if the major pipelines in the region have to close due to power or flooding issues, then the potential for supply issues becomes more widespread in short order. 

If Laura does make a significant impact, don’t be surprised to see states and the EPA ease RVP restrictions on gasoline, since we’re just weeks away from the annual transition anyway and pollution levels have already been at their lowest level in decades thanks to reduced consumption this year. You may notice that several spot markets aren’t keeping pace with the September futures contract this week, as they’ve already begun their fall transition to less-stringent gasoline specs.

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Market TalkFriday, Apr 19 2024

Gasoline Futures Are Leading The Way Lower This Morning

It was a volatile night for markets around the world as Israel reportedly launched a direct strike against Iran. Many global markets, from equities to currencies to commodities saw big swings as traders initially braced for the worst, then reversed course rapidly once Iran indicated that it was not planning to retaliate. Refined products spiked following the initial reports, with ULSD futures up 11 cents and RBOB up 7 at their highest, only to reverse to losses this morning. Equities saw similar moves in reverse overnight as a flight to safety trade soon gave way to a sigh of relief recovery.

Gasoline futures are leading the way lower this morning, adding to the argument that we may have seen the spring peak in prices a week ago, unless some actual disruption pops up in the coming weeks. The longer term up-trend is still intact and sets a near-term target to the downside roughly 9 cents below current values. ULSD meanwhile is just a nickel away from setting new lows for the year, which would open up a technical trap door for prices to slide another 30 cents as we move towards summer.

A Reuters report this morning suggests that the EPA is ready to announce another temporary waiver of smog-prevention rules that will allow E15 sales this summer as political winds continue to prove stronger than any legitimate environmental agenda. RIN prices had stabilized around 45 cents/RIN for D4 and D6 credits this week and are already trading a penny lower following this report.

Delek’s Big Spring refinery reported maintenance on an FCC unit that would require 3 days of work. That facility, along with several others across TX, have had numerous issues ever since the deep freeze events in 2021 and 2024 did widespread damage. Meanwhile, overnight storms across the Midwest caused at least one terminal to be knocked offline in the St. Louis area, but so far no refinery upsets have been reported.

Meanwhile, in Russia: Refiners are apparently installing anti-drone nets to protect their facilities since apparently their sling shots stopped working.

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

Pivotal Week For Price Action
Market TalkThursday, Apr 18 2024

The Sell-Off Continues In Energy Markets, RBOB Gasoline Futures Are Now Down Nearly 13 Cents In The Past Two Days

The sell-off continues in energy markets. RBOB gasoline futures are now down nearly 13 cents in the past two days, and have fallen 16 cents from a week ago, leading to questions about whether or not we’ve seen the seasonal peak in gasoline prices. ULSD futures are also coming under heavy selling pressure, dropping 15 cents so far this week and are trading at their lowest level since January 3rd.

The drop on the weekly chart certainly takes away the upside momentum for gasoline that still favored a run at the $3 mark just a few days ago, but the longer term up-trend that helped propel a 90-cent increase since mid-December is still intact as long as prices stay above the $2.60 mark for the next week. If diesel prices break below $2.50 there’s a strong possibility that we see another 30 cent price drop in the next couple of weeks.

An unwind of long positions after Iran’s attack on Israel was swatted out of the sky without further escalation (so far anyway) and reports that Russia is resuming refinery runs, both seeming to be contributing factors to the sharp pullback in prices.

Along with the uncertainty about where the next attacks may or may not occur, and if they will have any meaningful impact on supply, come no shortage of rumors about potential SPR releases or how OPEC might respond to the crisis. The only thing that’s certain at this point, is that there’s much more spare capacity for both oil production and refining now than there was 2 years ago, which seems to be helping keep a lid on prices despite so much tension.

In addition, for those that remember the chaos in oil markets 50 years ago sparked by similar events in and around Israel, read this note from the NY Times on why things are different this time around.

The DOE’s weekly status report was largely ignored in the midst of the big sell-off Wednesday, with few noteworthy items in the report.

Diesel demand did see a strong recovery from last week’s throwaway figure that proves the vulnerability of the weekly estimates, particularly the week after a holiday, but that did nothing to slow the sell-off in ULSD futures.

Perhaps the biggest next of the week was that the agency made its seasonal changes to nameplate refining capacity as facilities emerged from their spring maintenance.

PADD 2 saw an increase of 36mb/day, and PADD 3 increased by 72mb/day, both of which set new records for regional capacity. PADD 5 meanwhile continued its slow-motion decline, losing another 30mb/day of capacity as California’s war of attrition against the industry continues. It’s worth noting that given the glacial pace of EIA reporting on the topic, we’re unlikely to see the impact of Rodeo’s conversion in the official numbers until next year.

Speaking of which, if you believe the PADD 5 diesel chart below that suggests the region is running out of the fuel, when in fact there’s an excess in most local markets, you haven’t been paying attention. Gasoline inventories on the West Coast however do appear consistent with reality as less refining output and a lack of resupply options both continue to create headaches for suppliers.

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