Oil Prices Trade At Highest Values In Over A Year

Market TalkWednesday, Feb 3 2021
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Oil prices are trading at their highest values in more than a year this morning, and refined products are nearing one year highs of their own in what appears to be a technically driven rally after prices bounced hard off of the bullish trend lines Monday, and broke through chart resistance yesterday.  

A decline in oil inventories reported by the API is getting some of the credit for the continued rally, with the industry group reporting a 4.3 million barrel draw in crude stocks.  Gasoline and diesel stocks had smaller declines of 240,000 and 1.6 million barrels respectively.  One thing to watch out for is that we saw a huge draw in last week’s DOE report largely driven by a surge in exports and decline in imports. If those trade flows normalize this week, we could see a large build in crude stocks that might throw a little cold water on the bulls.

One odd thing about this rally is that it’s happening despite a strong move higher in the U.S. Dollar, which typically would put downward pressure on commodities in general, and energy contracts in particular. The correlation between the currency and energy contracts has flipped to positive in recent weeks, another sign that the most recent runup may be more technical for energy than fundamental as buyers of U.S. dollar-denominated oil are now paying more for the product, and their exchange rate.

Another odd thing about this rally? It’s happening despite RIN values pulling back sharply, falling more than a dime from the multi-year highs they reached last week. RIN values and product prices often move in the same direction as the federal renewable fuel credits act like a tax to refiners who don’t have the capability to blend their own ethanol, bio and other renewable products, which means a rise in RIN prices requires a rise in crack spreads for the margins to stay even. 

A third oddity about this rally is that it’s coming in the wake of a major winter storm that is hitting demand hard all along some of the country’s most populated areas on the east coast, while another major cold snap moves in right behind it that’s likely to further reduce consumption. Despite that, we’re seeing RBOB lead the move higher even as we could be in for the worst week of gasoline demand in some markets since Christmas.

The storm does not seem to have done any lasting damage to supply infrastructure in the North East, with no extended terminal or refinery downtime. In fact, it does not appear that there are any major refinery outages being reported that might cause the spike in RBOB outright prices and time spreads that we’re seeing this week. Actually, the only newsworthy refinery reports are that the refinery formerly known as Hovensa, is increasing its output, bringing a new competitor back to the Atlantic basin for the first time in years.

A strong recover rally in U.S. equity markets after some heavy selling last week seems to be adding to the bullish sentiment, but equities are pointing to a flat open so that doesn’t seem to explain the early strength in RBOB today.

Given the equity headlines over the past week, you might think that the RBOB rally could be a short squeeze, but since large speculators have actually been building their net long position to the highest level in a year over the past several weeks, that doesn’t seem to be a likely cause.  

At this point, it doesn’t matter much what’s causing the rally to continue, until that bullish trend line is broken, it seems the path of least resistance is for energy prices to keep moving higher despite all the potential headwinds. The big test for RBOB and ULSD remains the February 2020 highs around $1.68 and $1.72. If the break there, we could see another 15-20 cents of upside, but a failure could mean a move back into the $1.40s based on nothing more than a natural technical correction of the three month old rally.

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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

Pivotal Week For Price Action
Market TalkThursday, May 23 2024

Gasoline Prices Have Finally Found A Bid, Trading Up 3 Cents On The Day

Gasoline prices have finally found a bid, trading up 3 cents on the day after coming within a penny and a quarter of the multi-month lows set last week overnight. ULSD prices are also up a couple of cents in the early going after wiping out the gains they made last week. Both contracts are once again threatening a technical breakdown that could push prices another 20-30 cents lower if the current bounce isn’t sustained.

The EIA’s estimate for gasoline demand surged to a 7-month high last week, capping off a 4th straight week of gains that puts total consumption near the top end of the seasonal range after a very sluggish start to the year. AAA estimates that travel this Memorial Day weekend will approach a 20 year high with nearly 44 million people hitting the roads.

The EIA also published a note this morning showing average US gasoline prices are up 1% from last year, accompanied by a chart showing that average prices are down 7 cents/gallon from this time last year. The spread between retail gasoline prices on the West Coast vs the rest of the country continues to grow and is shown to be over $1.20/gallon thanks to Oregon and Washington’s Californication of their energy policies in recent years.

The EIA still seems to be struggling to figure out its accounting methods for crude oil inventories, with the adjustment factor that’s been creating all sorts of confusion the past couple of years flipping from a negative 200,000 barrels/day last week, to a positive 1.4 million barrels/day this week. You could give the EIA compilation crew a break and say that this reflects just how large and complex the US crude oil supply network is, or you could ask how did they suddenly “find” 10-million barrels of oil that they didn’t see last week.

Refiners are cranking up run rates, exceeding the levels we’ve seen this time of year in either of the past 2 years. Those higher run rates are added to the glut of diesel products that’s hanging over the majority of the country, and pushing rack spreads to levels we haven’t seen since the COVID lockdown in several markets.

The export market for US crude and refined products remains very busy with nearly 10 million barrels shipped out of the country every day. Refinery throughput was 16.2 million barrels/day last week, and more than 6 million barrels/day was exported even though gasoline and diesel exports have stagnated this year. The anticipated tick higher in US diesel exports following the rash of Russian refinery attacks has not materialized, which is no doubt contributing to the negative sentiment for diesel prices over the past month. The busy and growing export market for crude and other products also creates an interesting dynamic as we prepare for a busy hurricane season to kick off in a week as any disruption to infrastructure along the Gulf Coast could limit product going out of the country almost as much as it disrupts products flowing inland.

Basis values for RBOB in Chicago dropped 30 cents Wednesday after Tuesday’s 60 cent spike. It’s still unclear what if any impacts the confirmed fire at Exxon’s Joliet refinery, or the rumored upsets at BP’s Whiting facility have had on actual supply in the region, but the quick pullback suggests this is a flash in the pan rather than the start of a prolonged supply shortage.

Exxon reported a leak at its Beaumont TX Chemical plant, but it appears that upset isn’t impacting the operations at its adjacent refinery.

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