Rallying Distillate Futures Push Energy Complex Higher

Market TalkMonday, Jan 23 2023
Pivotal Week For Price Action

The rally marches on to start a new week with refined products up 3 cents so far on the day, reaching their highest levels since mid-November. Both fundamental and technical indicators suggest this rally may have more room to run, as more refinery issues crop up in the US and Europe, and prices have broken through their near term resistance on the charts.

Diesel prices are up 58 cents from their January 4th lows, following the largest selloff to start a year in 3 decades with nearly 3 weeks of strong gains. This also puts distillate prices nearly 75 cents higher than they were at their December lows, and the charts suggest there’s plenty of room to move higher still with a run at $3.70 or even $4 looking likely in the next several weeks.  

The gasoline price rally isn’t quite as impressive, with RBOB futures “only” rising 43 cents off of their January lows, and 64 cents since bottoming out in December. Considering that we’re just moving through the worst few weeks of the whole year for gasoline demand however, that rally is still an impressive feat, leaving the door open for a run at $2.80 or $3 over the next month. While the charts are now favoring higher prices, numerous technical indicators are flashing “overbought” status, meaning a sharp pullback is to be expected along the way and could happen this week. As long as the upward trend-lines aren’t broken, that pullback should be a decent buying opportunity.   

The squeeze is on. Money managers made substantial increases in the net length held in energy contracts last week, driven in large part by a big reduction in short positions for WTI and Brent as the price rally marched on. In total, more than 45,000 short contracts were covered as the big speculators that had been betting on lower prices threw in the towel.  For Brent, speculative length has reached a 4 month high, and will hit a year high next week if the recent upward trend can hold. 

We have seen large increases in open interest so far in 2023 as lower volatility seems to be encouraging some traders to dip their toes back in the water, but the overall positions remain low compared to the past 5-7 years.

Baker Hughes reported a large decline in oil rigs last week, with the total US count dropping by 10, bringing it to a 2 month low at 613. Natural gas rigs meanwhile saw a large increase of 6 on the week, bringing that weekly total to 156. Given the long lead times needed to get enough people, equipment, and sometimes funding in place for a drilling rig, it seems the current drop in oil rigs may be a reflection of the market pessimism 2 months ago when WTI traded down to the $70 mark, or it could be a sign of shifting to favor natural gas production as the world was expecting a harsh winter heating season that simply has not yet materialized.

A fire broke out at the PBF refinery outside of New Orleans Saturday, but was quickly extinguished without any injuries. So far there are no reports on whether or not operations have been curtailed following that fire. 

Today’s interesting read from the WSJ: A debate over whether or not blending more biofuels will benefit the environment. 

Protesting unions in France are threatening to cut off electricity supplies and shut down refineries, as the country continues to struggle with either making people work 2 more years before getting their state pension or going bankrupt.  Those protests continue to offer a reason for buyers to bid up refined product futures as the Atlantic basin is stretched thin for refinery output already.

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

Market Talk Update 01.23.2023

News & Views

View All
Pivotal Week For Price Action
Pivotal Week For Price Action
Market TalkWednesday, Jul 17 2024

Energy Markets Are Trying To Find A Price Floor After Gasoline And Crude Oil Staged A Healthy Bounce To Minimize The Heavy Losses

Energy markets are trying to find a price floor after gasoline and crude oil staged a healthy bounce to minimize the heavy losses we saw early in Tuesday’s session. WTI is leading the move higher early Wednesday, up nearly $.90/barrel in the early going, while RBOB prices are up just under a penny.

Diesel continues to look like the weak link in the energy chain both technically and fundamentally. Tuesday the API reported a 4.9 million barrel build in diesel stocks, while gasoline inventories were only up 365,000 barrels, and crude oil stocks declined by more than 4.4 million barrels. The DOE’s weekly report is due out at its normal time this morning and it’s likely we’ll see a reduction in oil output and PADD 3 refining runs thanks to shut ins ahead of Hurricane Beryl, but otherwise the storm appears to be a relative non-issue with only 1 notable refining hiccup, that wasn’t even as bad as a midwestern Thunderstorm.

Chicago basis values rallied Tuesday after reports that Exxon had shut down the 250mb/day Joliet refinery following severe storms that knocked out power to the area Sunday. RBOB differentials surged nearly 9 cents on the day, while diesel diffs jumped more than a nickel. With 3 large refineries in close proximity, the Chicago cash market is notoriously volatile if any of those facilities has an upset. Back in May there was a one-day spike in gasoline basis of more than 50 cents/gallon after Joliet had an operating upset so don’t be surprised if there are bigger swings this week if the facility doesn’t come back online quickly.

Moving in the opposite direction, California basis values are heading the opposite direction with the transition to August scheduling pressuring CARBOB differentials in LA and San Francisco to their biggest discounts to prompt RBOB futures in more than 18 months. Gasoline imports into PADD 5 have held well above average levels over the past 2 months, which has more than offset the loss of the P66 Rodeo refinery’s output after it completed its conversion to RD production, in another sign of how growing refining capacity in China and other Asian countries may become more influential to the US. California regulators may also pat themselves on the back that their new plans to force refineries to report their gross profit monthly, in addition to the rules requiring all bulk trades in the state be reported must be driving the lower gasoline differentials, assuming they figure out what a basis differential is.

Meanwhile, California’s Carbon Allowance values have tumbled to their lowest levels in a year after a CARB presentation last week suggested the agency would be delaying long-anticipated tightening of the Cap and Trade program until 2026.

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

Pivotal Week For Price Action
Market TalkTuesday, Jul 16 2024

The Sell-Off In Energy Markets Continues, With Refined Products Reaching Their Lowest Levels In A Month Early In Tuesday’s Session

The sell-off in energy markets continues, with refined products reaching their lowest levels in a month early in Tuesday’s session. Reports of slowing growth in China, the world’s largest oil purchaser, is getting much of the credit for the slide in prices so far this week, although that doesn’t do much to explain why refined products are outpacing the drop in crude.

ULSD futures are leading the early move lower, trading down a nickel on the day, and marking a 19 cent drop since July 4th. There’s not much in the way of technical support for ULSD, so don’t be surprised if this sell-off continues to pick up steam.

With today’s slide, RBOB futures are down 17 cents from where they were trading on July 4th, and are just a couple of cents from testing their 200-day moving average. Should that support break, it looks like there’s a good chance to test the June lows around $2.29.

Physical markets are not offering any strength to the futures market with all 6 of the major cash markets for diesel across the US trading at a discount to ULSD futures, while only 1 gasoline market is trading at a premium to RBOB futures. That combination of weakness in futures and cash markets is going to be troubling for refiners who are seeing margins reduce during what is traditionally a strong time of year.

The EIA highlighted the energy trade between the US and Mexico in a report Monday, showing that despite so many claims of energy independence from Mexican officials, the actual amount of refined fuels and natural gas bought from the US continues to increase. That’s good news for many US refiners who have become more dependent on Mexican purchases to find a home for their output.

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