Markets Around The World Are Transitioning From Full Panic To Major Discomfort As The Russian War On Ukraine Continues

Market TalkFriday, Feb 25 2022
Pivotal Week For Price Action

Markets around the world are transitioning from full panic to major discomfort as the Russian war on Ukraine continues, but the fallout has been isolated so far. This time yesterday brought with it breathless comparisons to other notorious market shocks, as Europe was not only facing its most severe military conflict since WW2, but it came with an only-slightly-veiled threat of nuclear war should other countries try to intervene. 

Equity markets staged a huge recovery Thursday afternoon, and energy prices pulled back sharply, as traders digested the new reality that most have only read about in history books online, with several factors seeming to play into the calming down we witnessed throughout the day.The US President had promised sanctions would be “swift and severe” if Russia invaded Ukraine.  Thursday he announced a variety of moves that may be seen as severe, but avoided cutting Russia off from the SWIFT payment system, which is seen as a way to keep a penalty in reserve if needed, allow European banks to continue receiving loan payments from Russian firms, and probably most importantly, allow for Russian energy exports to continue

Expectations that the FED would take it easier on interest rate hikes to try and offset some of the economic impact of the war & sanctions also seemed to encourage stock markets. The CME’s FedWatch tool shows that 2 days ago, there was a 33% probability of a 50 point rate hike at the March FOMC meeting, but that likelihood dropped to 21% yesterday.

While the panic has subsided, we’re a long way away from a calm market. After refined product prices pulled back 15-18 cents from the overnight highs Thursday afternoon, energy buyers did step back in pushing prices 5-6 cents higher last night, only to see a drop to 2-3 cent losses earlier this morning. That type of volatility is to be expected as long as the fighting and constantly changing stance on sanctions continues.  

Physical product trading in the US had a fairly muted reaction, with most regional cash markets seeing only small basis moves on low liquidity, which is common when the futures market goes wild. RIN values did move higher on the day as the risk of trickle down effects from Black Sea supply disruptions to grain markets took hold, but like the rest of the energy contracts those prices pulled back sharply from the initial round of panic buying.  

The lack of reaction in USGC products was particularly noteworthy given the ongoing shutdown of the products pipeline FKA Plantation as the company investigates a leak in Georgia. Values for shipping space on Colonial had already jumped last week as the annual RVP transition opened up the Gulf-East Coast arbitrage window, and those values held steady Thursday, suggesting the big physical traders aren’t yet too concerned that the pipeline will be down for long. There are already reports that some retail stations in the US are seeing long lines as consumers fill their various forms of fuel tanks due to the Russian invasion, and if the Plantation line stays down for another couple of days, that phenomenon could get much worse. 

Some notes from the DOE report Thursday (that no one seemed to pay attention to for more than a minute or two):

US diesel inventories declined for a 6th consecutive week, and are holding 30 million barrels (nearly 1.3 billion gallons) below their average for this time of year.  Demand both domestically and abroad remains strong, which helps explain why the coasts (PADDs 1, 3 and 5) are all tight, while the landlocked locations (PADDs 2 & 4) are relatively well supplied.   There’s a similar but less severe phenomenon with US Gasoline inventories which are slightly below average in total, with coastal markets seeing tighter supplies than normal. Another theme is that while supplies are well below year-ago levels this week, that’s about to change for many markets as refiners continue to operate relatively well through a parade of winter storms, and while there have been a handful of upsets, there is nothing even remotely resembling the disruption we were facing a year ago. 

Click here to download a PDF of today's TACenergy Market Talk, including all charts from the Weekly DOE Report.

Market Talk Update 2.25.22

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Pivotal Week For Price Action
Market TalkTuesday, Jan 31 2023

ULSD Prices Drop Despite Looming Russian Supply Ban

ULSD continues to lead the energy complex lower as January winds to a close, dropping from a high of $3.58 one week ago to a low of $3.0570 this morning. Crude oil and gasoline prices have also come under heavy pressure, but have lagged far behind the moves in ULSD, which has pushed prompt diesel crack spreads by down by $12/barrel in just a week.

Why exactly diesel prices got so weak so fast is a bit of a mystery given that inventories remain well below their seasonal ranges, refineries across the country are running below normal levels due to a rash of unplanned issues, and the embargo on Russian diesel shipments starts this weekend. 

The warmer than expected winter has certainly eased concerns of more severe shortages of natural gas and heating oil across Europe and the US North East, but European natural gas prices have been rebounding as temperatures are expected to drop again next week, and French workers are attempting to block more fuel deliveries today as part of the ongoing strikes against state pension reform. 

Recession expectations could be a factor in this pullback, as they were during the last 2022 selloff as earnings season is showing that US consumers are slowing down purchases, while the FED is poised for another rate hike tomorrow.   

Liquidations by the hedge funds that added new bets on higher prices last week, just in time for this pullback could also be at play, although we won’t get to see that data again until Friday. 

The drop could be a sign of the classic “buy the rumor, sell the news” trading phenomenon with the upcoming Russian embargo, particularly given that exports have surged in recent weeks as buyers race to beat the deadline. 

There’s also a real possibility that there simply is not a fundamental reason at all for this price pullback, and it has more to do with the big speculative funds that can be the fair weather fans of commodity markets, or the trading algorithms that account for most daily volume being programmed to sell after an 82 cent rally from a low of $2.76 in early December to $3.58 last week.

Whatever the cause, ULSD is now breaking its weekly trendline that propelled prices higher for 7 weeks, and sets up a test of the January lows at $2.92 if they can’t manage a bounce in the next day or two.  Then again, if they do bounce, this 50 cent pullback in 5 trading days may be seen as nothing more than the latest big swing in an extraordinarily volatile market and a good buying opportunity for anyone that has a fuel budget.

Pretty much everyone expects the FED to raise rates by 25 basis points tomorrow, with the CME’s fedwatch tool showing a 99% probability of that outcome, and 85% that they’ll raise another 25 points in March.   The big question is whether or not the FED will be done raising rates after that, with traders fairly evenly split in their bets on the rates beyond the next two months.

Exxon, Marathon and P66 all reported earnings for Q4 today, and surprised no-one with their strong results, even though refining margins pulled back from the record levels set earlier in the year. 

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

Pivotal Week For Price Action
Market TalkMonday, Jan 30 2023

Energy Futures Tumbling Again to Speculator's Chagrin

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. 

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

Pivotal Week For Price Action
Market TalkFriday, Jan 27 2023

Energy Markets Seeing Modest Gains To Start Friday's Session

Energy markets are seeing modest gains to start Friday’s session, chipping away at the heavy losses we saw earlier in the week.  

If prices end near current levels, gasoline prices will be down about a penny for the week while distillates will be down by a nickel, and the weekly charts still have a higher high and higher low than last week, keeping the upward trend intact. 

While the pullback Tuesday and Wednesday eased immediate concerns of another runaway rally for fuel prices, warning signs are already flashing that retail fuel prices are back up to $3.50 per gallon during some of the weakest demand of the year, while refiners are still able to blend large amounts of butane into fuel to stretch supplies. With inventories already low and numerous refineries struggling, the stage is set fundamentally for a big rally in the weeks ahead, and technical indicators suggest there’s plenty of room for more upside as the upward trend started in December is still intact despite this week’s selling.

Are we striking or not? That seems to be the question for French unions that tried again Thursday to disrupt operations at refineries and nuclear power plants Thursday, but saw participation wane as cold temperatures increased heating demand and increased the risk of backlash for interfering with fuel deliveries. There’s another strike planned for next week, so the risk to supplies remains if that lasts more than a day or two.

Chevron reported record profits in 2022, even though Q4 earnings pulled back substantially from the prior 2 quarters as fuel prices retreated. The company’s refinery earnings were more than triple 2021 levels, in what is certainly going to be a theme for the rest of the earnings releases upcoming. Of course these companies remain easy targets for politicians wanting to place blame for high fuel prices. The “drill more or else” mantra is probably overlooking that while the on shore rig counts have stagnated, the offshore business is booming once again

While refined products are recovering, natural gas prices have continued to slide, dropping below $3 for the first time since May of 2021 as inventories swell and weather reports suggest that much warmer winter than previously forecast is still in the cards. Those cheap prices may not last long however as the Freeport LNG Export facility received FERC approval to begin the long process of restarting its operations. That facility accounted for 15% of US exports before a fire last June and has kept domestic prices suppressed as those supplies were stranded inland.

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