Pipeline Fears Ending As Inflation Fears Spread

Market TalkMonday, May 17 2021
Pivotal Week For Price Action

Energy and equity futures are both pointing modestly lower to start a new week, as pipeline fears are ending, and inflation fears are spreading

Colonial’s restart continues to progress on schedule, with scheduling systems now back online, in addition to the operating systems that start up last week.

While it will still take several more days to fully alleviate the crunch, improvement is seen all across the region with allocation percentages increasing and outages decreasing from Louisiana to Pennsylvania. Now that the shortage is in the rearview mirror, the focus will turn to what will come next as this situation was a rude awakening of the threats posed to infrastructure, even as the hackers responsible are fleeing to try and avoid the weight of the U.S. coming down on them. New reporting requirements for pipeline systems seems to be a popular prediction for a way that the industry will be forced to change, and will likely come with unintended consequences that will make operating those pipeline systems more challenging. 

One painful little detail for renewable fuel proponents who wasted no time last week suggesting that ethanol could help alleviate the supply crunch if the EPA would only allow E15 blends: several supply terminals across multiple states cited a shortage of ethanol for compounding the product shortages as railcar shipments simply couldn’t keep up with the rapidly shifting demand patterns across the region.

Money managers continue to have mixed feelings about energy contracts, with WTI, Brent and RBOB all seeing a drop in the net length held by large speculators last week via new short positions and liquidating old long positions, while ULSD and Gasoil contracts saw their net length increase. The fact that RBOB length didn’t increase as of last Tuesday – when the outcome of the Colonial shutdown was still very much in doubt – suggests the bandwagon jumpers in the hedge fund community are either cautious about gasoline prices, or have lost interest as other commodities seem to be an easier trade as long as inflation is making headlines.

Eight more oil drilling rigs were put to work last week according to Baker Hughes weekly report, the largest gain in nearly two months. The location of those drilling rigs is a bit of a mystery as four of the eight rigs come in the “other” category since they weren’t in the 14 largest basins tracked in the report, and the state by state count is offset by a drop in the natural gas rig count. The fact that the build is coming outside of the Permian (which accounts for more than half of all drilling activity) or one of the other well-known basins, suggests the price environment is good enough to encourage some companies to reach further in their operations.     

As predicted last week, the EPA has ordered the St. Croix (island, not river) refinery to cease operations after a string of mishaps rained oil and other chemicals on the local community.  Keeping that plant offline will make other Atlantic basin producers breathe a small sigh of relief as it will keep some of the excess capacity out of that market, and perhaps extend the operational life of another facility that would have had to close otherwise. 

Speaking of refinery closures, Australia’s government is committing more than $2 billion to keep its last two refineries operating, citing national security concerns if the country is forced to import all of its fuel. This is a dilemma being faced around the world as country’s have suddenly found themselves with traditional refineries closing due to weak economics and public perception, but without a solution to keep their economies rolling without them, other than being forced to buy fuel from countries that may not like them much.

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TACenergy MarketTalk Update 051721

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Pivotal Week For Price Action
Pivotal Week For Price Action
Market TalkThursday, Feb 22 2024

RBOB And ULSD Futures Down Around 2.5 Cents After A Mixed Performance Wednesday

Refined products are leading the energy complex lower to start Thursday’s trading with both RBOB and ULSD futures down around 2.5 cents after a mixed performance Wednesday.

The API reported another large build in crude oil inventories last week, with inventories up more than 7 million barrels while gasoline inventories increased by 415,000 barrels and diesel stocks dropped by 2.9 million. The crude oil build was no doubt aided once again by the shutdown of BP’s Whiting refinery that takes nearly ½ million barrels/day of oil demand out of the market. That facility is said to be ramping up operations this week, while full run rates aren’t expected again until March. The DOE’s weekly report will be out at 11am eastern this morning.

Too much or not enough? Tuesday there were reports that the KM pipeline system in California was forced to shut down two-line segments and cut batches in a third due to a lack of storage capacity as heavy rains have sapped demand in the region. Wednesday there were new reports that some products ran out of renewable diesel because of those pipeline delays, bringing back memories of the early COVID lockdown days when an excess of gasoline caused numerous outages of diesel.

The Panama Canal Authority has announced $8.5 billion in sustainability investments planned for the next 5 years. Most of those funds are aimed at sustainability efforts like modernizing equipment and installing solar panels, while around $2 billion is intended for a better water management system to combat the challenges they’ve faced with lower water levels restricting transit by 50% or more in the past year. More importantly in the near term, forecasts for the end of the El Nino pattern that contributed to a record drought, and the beginning of a La Nina pattern that tends to bring more rain to the region are expected to help improve water levels starting this summer.

The bad news is that La Nina pattern, coupled with historically warm water temperature has Accuweather forecasters sounding “Alarm Bells” over a “supercharged” hurricane season this year. Other years with a similar La Nina were 2005 which produced Katrina, Rita and Wilma and 2020 when we ran out of names, and the gulf Coast was repeatedly pummeled but markets didn’t react much due to the COVID demand slump. Perhaps most concerning for the refining industry is that unlike the past couple of years when Florida had the bullseye, the Texas coast is forecast to be at higher risk this year.

RIN prices continued their slide Wednesday morning, trading down to 38 cents/RIN before finally finding a bid that pushed values back to the 41-42 cent range by the end of the day.

The huge slide in RIN values showed up as a benefit in Suncor’s Q4 earnings report this morning, as the Renewable Volume Obligation for the company dropped to $4.75/barrel vs $8.55/barrel in Q4 of 2022. Based on the continued drop so far in 2024, expect that obligation to be nearly cut in half again. Suncor continued the trend of pretty much every other refiner this quarter, showing a dramatic drop in margins from the record-setting levels in 2022, but unlike a few of its counterparts over the past week was able to maintain positive earnings. The company noted an increase in refining runs after recovering from the Christmas Eve blizzard in 2022 that took down its Denver facility for months but did not mention any of the environmental challenges that facility is facing.

Valero’s McKee refinery reported a flaring event Wednesday that impacted multiple unites and lasted almost 24 hours. Meanwhile, Total reported more flaring at its Pt Arthur facility as that plant continues to struggle through restart after being knocked offline by the January deep freeze.

Speaking of which, the US Chemical Safety board released an update on its investigation into the fire at Marathon’s Martinez CA renewable diesel plant last November, noting how the complications of start -up leave refineries of all types vulnerable.

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Pivotal Week For Price Action
Market TalkWednesday, Feb 21 2024

It’s A Mixed Start For Energy Markets To Start Wednesday’s Session After A Heavy Round Of Selling Tuesday

It’s a mixed start for energy markets to start Wednesday’s session after a heavy round of selling Tuesday. RBOB gasoline futures are clinging to modest gains in the early going while the rest of the complex is moving lower.  

WTI is pulling back for a 2nd day after reaching a 3.5 month high just shy of $80. The pullback pushes prompt values back below the 200-day moving average, reducing the likelihood of a breakout to the upside near term.

ULSD values are down nearly 10 cents for the week and are down more than 26 cents from the high trade set February 9th. That pullback leaves ULSD in neutral territory and could act as a headwind for gasoline prices that still seem poised to at least attempt a typical spring rally that adds roughly 20-30% from winter values.

RIN prices continue their slide this week, with D6 and D4 values reaching new 4-year lows around $.41/RIN Tuesday, which is down just slightly from the $1.62/RIN they were going for a year ago.

HF Sinclair reported a loss for Q4 this morning, with its refining and renewables segments each losing roughly $75 million for the quarter. The change from a year ago in the refining segment is a harsh reminder of the cyclical nature of the business as earnings dropped more than $800 million year on year, with inventory cost adjustments accounting for roughly ¼ of that decline.   

While it wasn’t mentioned in the press release, HFS has the most direct exposure to New Mexico’s recent approval of a clean fuel standard that will start in 2026. That law will no doubt help the company’s struggling Renewables assets in the state but will also create extra costs for their traditional refining operations.

The EIA this morning noted that conditions in the Panama Canal improved slightly in January, allowing Gulf Coast exports to Asia, primarily of Propane and ethane, to increase. While transit capacity is still far below levels we saw before the drought reduced operations in the canal, any improvement offers welcome relief to shippers as they can avoid going the long-way around to avoid the violence in the Red Sea.

France’s navy didn’t waste any time getting into the Red Sea action, shooting down a pair of Houthi Drones less than a day after joining the EU’s official mission to assist in clearing the shipping lanes. It’s not yet clear whether this marks the first official military victory by the French since Napoleon. 

Reminder that the weekly inventory reports are delayed a day due to the holiday Monday.

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