Moving Through February Demand Doldrums

Market TalkThursday, Feb 11 2021
Market Talk Updates - Social Header

Energy prices are seeing a modest pullback to start Thursday after WTI and ULSD futures stretched their winning streak to eight straight sessions on Wednesday, reaching new one-year highs in the process. Some sobering fundamental data seems to be giving the market reason to pause, although the trend-lines are still intact and pointing higher for now, and prices have already bounced off of their overnight lows.  

Gasoline prices are faring the worst this week as we move through the February demand doldrums with a parade of winter storms and record-setting cold on tap for the next week.

The DOE’s weekly report didn’t offer any help to the stumble in gasoline prices as another large build in inventories, most of which came in PADD 1, reminded traders that prices are up 65% from three months ago even though inventory levels have swelled by more than 10% during that stretch. The past three weeks alone have seen gasoline stocks move from below the five year average seasonal range to the top end of that range. With demand still struggling, leaving days of supply at the highest levels since the lock-downs last spring, the chances of the normal seasonal drawdown in supplies is looking like a challenge. 

Refinery runs picked up across all 5 PADDs last week, which seems to be putting downward pressure on basis values along the coastal markets. Meanwhile mid-continent markets have strengthened this week, as inventories in the Midwest remain below average, and in what could be some expectation that the cold snap could cause some refinery hiccups, particularly for those plants on the southern edge of the region that don’t plan for single digit temps.

RIN values continue to come under heavy selling pressure this week. The new EPA administrator appointee seems to be holding his cards close to the vest, saying in an interview that he planned on reviewing options for the RFS, and not offering any hint on potential obligation changes.

The IEA’s monthly oil market report called the global supply/demand rebalancing “fragile” as the new, more-contagious variants of COVID-19 threatens the demand recovery. The report did make a reduction in its expected total demand for 2021, but only because the actual demand numbers for last year were found to be lower than previous estimates, so the rate of expected change year on year has not changed. The IEA’s report also highlighted that refinery runs in the Atlantic basin are set to lead the recovery in 2021, after they dropped to the lowest level in the 50 years the agency has been tracking those levels.

The EIA’s monthly short term energy outlook highlighted similar concerns for the first half of the year as the IEA’s report, with expectations for a strong recovery in the back half of the year. The STEO highlighted the relatively small spread between winter and summer gasoline grades this year, which are roughly half of what we’ve come to expect. The report suggests the weak demand and low refinery run rates are the cause for this small spread, but failed to mention the EPA’s fuel compliance streamlining that should make summer-grades less expensive this year.

Perhaps the most interesting detail in the February STEO is the comparison of natural gas prices in the U.S. which are hovering around $3/million BTU, vs. other parts of the world that are paying $10-$20. Chart below.

In case you can’t get enough of the monthly reports that remind us COVID has hurt demand, but it should get better eventually, OPEC’s monthly oil market report will be out later this morning.

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

TACenergy MarketTalk 021121

News & Views

View All
Pivotal Week For Price Action
Market TalkMonday, Dec 5 2022

The Officially Imposed Sanctions Against Russian Oil Exports Are Taking Credit For This Morning’s Gains In Energy Prices

The officially imposed sanctions against Russian oil exports are taking credit for this morning’s gains in energy prices. Brent futures, the benchmark for European crude oil, are leading the pack higher so far today, trading up nearly 3%. West Texas Intermediate futures, along with both American refined product contracts, are tagging along with 1.5-2.5% gains.

OPEC’n’friends decided to stay pat on their Production Reduction™ policy through the end of the year, which aims to remove about 2 million barrels per day from global oil inventories. The relatively muted response in energy futures action suggests the ban on Russian crude and the continued reduction in cartel oil supply were both largely priced in.

It seems we have averted disaster last Friday as Washington passed legislation to prevent rail workers from going on strike. While the vast majority of refined products are transported to market hubs via pipeline, the required ethanol component of retail gasoline is by-and-large supplied via railcars.

Heating Oil futures stand out as the lone contract of the ‘big five’ that saw increased bullish bets from money managers last week, mostly due to the trimming of short positions rather than the addition of long positions. It seems fewer and fewer traders are willing to bet on lower diesel prices heading into the winter, where distillates act as backup supply for heating homes.

Market participants in crude oil futures fell to lows not seen since 2016 last week. It seems the global uncertainty surrounding energy supply and infrastructure has some potential players taking a wait-and-see approach rather than betting on price direction.

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

Pivotal Week For Price Action
Market TalkFriday, Dec 2 2022

The Energy Complex Is Trading Mostly Lower So Far This Morning

The energy complex is trading mostly lower so far this morning, with prompt month RBOB futures leading the way. Brent crude oil is struggling to hold on to overnight gains and it is exchanging hands on the green side of even, if only just.

The easing of quarantine protocols in China is taking partial credit for the weekly gain in WTI futures this morning, despite the emergence of reports and images showing provisional camps set up to enforce isolation and curb the latest spread of the pandemic.

The “ban” on Russian crude oil, set to take effect on Monday, has yet to reach final approval in Europe. Poland seems to be one of the last holdouts and has not been shy about wanting the price cap to be as low as possible.

Sunday’s OPEC+ meeting, which will reportedly be held virtually, is also getting some play in the headlines this morning. While some consider the setting of the meeting to telegraph no change in the cartel’s production policy, others posit the group is considering cuts ahead of next week’s oil ban.

The Bureau of Labor Statistics published the November jobs report this morning, an increase in nonfarm payrolls of 263,000 while unemployment rate held pat at 3.7%. The stock market did not like that: S&P 500 futures dropped 1.4% on the news as traders expect higher-than-expected job growth to buttress the Fed’s intent on continuing to raise interest rates.

The EPA published their proposed volume obligations under the Renewable Fuel Standard for the next three years and is now seeking public opinion on their target levels. Their report also estimates that the RIN obligations will reduce US oil imports by ~170,000 barrels per year. Is that a typo? We imported 6 million barrels per day last week, for reference.

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

Pivotal Week For Price Action
Market TalkThursday, Dec 1 2022

December Trading Is Kicking Off With Modest Gains For Energy Contracts

December trading is kicking off with modest gains for energy contracts after a strong finish to November helped the complex avoid a technical breakdown.  

Equity markets saw another big rally Wednesday after the FED chair suggested that smaller rate hikes were coming. The correlation between energy and equity markets remains weak, so it doesn’t seem like that’s having much influence on daily pricing, but it certainly doesn’t hurt the case for a recovery rally.  New reports that China may ease some lockdowns in the wake of last weekend’s protests is also getting some credit for the strength in prices after they reached 11 month lows on Monday.

The DOE’s weekly report had something for everyone with crude oil stocks showing some bullish figures while refined product supplies got some much-needed relief.

US Crude oil inventories saw a huge drop of more than 12 million barrels last week thanks to a surge in exports to the 3rd highest level on record, a drop in imports, and the SPR sales that have been supplementing commercial supplies for the past 6 months wind down. The market reaction was fairly muted to the big headline drop, which is probably due to the inconsistent nature of the import/export flows, which are likely to reverse course next week. The lack of SPR injections will be a key figure to watch through the winter, particularly as the Russian embargo starts next week.

Diesel inventories increases across all 5 PADDs last week, as demand dipped again and imports ticked higher. Diesel exports remain above average, and are expected to continue that pace in the near term as European and Latin American buyers continue to be short. Read this note for why in the long term more of those supplies will probably come from China or Kuwait

US refiners continue to run all-out, with total throughput last week reaching its highest level since the start of the pandemic, even though we’ve lost more than 600,000 barrels/day of capacity since then. Those high run rates at a time of soft demand help explain why we’re seeing big negative basis values at the refining hubs around the country and if the pipeline and vessel outlets can’t keep pace to move that product elsewhere we may see those refiners forced to cut back due to lack of storage options.

The EPA was required by court order to submit its plans for the renewable fuel standard by November 16, and then came to an agreement to release them on November 30, and then apparently decided to meet that deadline, but not release the plan to the public. If you think this is ridiculous, you’re not alone, but keep in mind this is the same agency that regularly missed the statutory deadline by more than a year previously, so it’s also not too surprising. This is also the law that required 16 billion gallons/year of cellulosic biofuels be blended by 2022 when it was put into place 15 years ago, only to run into a wall of physical reality where the country is still unable to produce even 1 billion gallons/year of that fuel. 

There are still expectations that the public may get to see the proposed rulings later this week, and reports that renewable electricity generation will be added to the mix for the first time ever starting next year. RIN prices were pulling back from the 18 month highs they reached leading up to the non-announcement as it seems the addition of “eRINs” will add new RIN supply, and potentially offset the increased biofuel mandates.

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