Refinery Restart, Sell-Off in Equities Send ULSD Prices Lower

Market TalkThursday, Aug 3 2023
Pivotal Week For Price Action

ULSD could not sustain a record-setting 12th day of increases Wednesday as a sell-off in equities and a refinery restart both contributed to a big reversal in refined products and the crude oil market shrugged off the biggest inventory decline on record.

Gasoline prices have dropped nearly 20 cents in the past 24 hours after the P66 Bayway restart drove PADD 1 refinery runs sharply higher for a 2nd straight week, alleviating concerns of a supply squeeze along the East Coast ahead of the fall RVP transition. The West Coast meanwhile is pointing higher as we approach the final summer-grade pipeline cycles of the year. So far, the 30-40 cent premiums are a far cry from the $2/gallon spreads we saw last August, but there could be more upside ahead as refiners will be reluctant to make more of a product that no one will want in a few weeks. 

While ULSD futures saw a big outside-down reversal day Wednesday, setting a new high only to finish with a lower low and settlement than the prior day, prices are not collapsing like they are with gasoline, giving the bulls a chance to contain the selling into nothing more than an overdue correction after a record-tying 11 consecutive increases. The $3 mark may well prove a pivotal level psychologically as we end the week to determine if the rally resumes or if we just saw the high trade of the season earlier in the week.

The big reversal in refined products seems to coincide more with the selloff in equity markets the past two days following a downgrade of the US debt rating more than anything to do with the weekly inventory reports. The correlation between daily moves in energy futures and equity markets continues to hold at the strongest levels we’ve seen in 2.5 years now that global supply fears have eased, and the big question of the day is how the economy will drive demand.

Speaking of which, gasoline demand did see a small decline last week, but didn’t move the needle on inventories which only managed a small build and remain below year-ago levels.  Diesel demand ticked higher for a 3rd straight week which is holding inventories close to the bottom end of the 5-year range in most markets.

The DOE reported a 17-million-barrel drop in oil inventories last week, the biggest decline in the 40+ years of the weekly status report. Nobody seemed to care much, in large part because nearly 14 million barrels of that decline was due to a change in the “adjustment factor” that’s code for “we don’t know what the real numbers are”. 

The Q2 refiner earnings reports are shedding more light on the rapid expansion of Renewable diesel production. CVR Energy discussed plans to add a renewable diesel unit at its Coffeyville facility after a successful startup at its facility in Wynnewood OK, continuing the trend of refiners co-processing rather than converting that may be giving others shut-down remorse. Speaking of which, HFS announced another negative quarter for earnings in its renewables segment even though volumes have doubled in the past year. P66 meanwhile announced that it still on track with its Rodeo CA conversion, with commercial operations set to begin in Q1 2024.

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

Market Talk Update 08.03.2023

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Pivotal Week For Price Action
Market TalkFriday, Apr 12 2024

Charts Continue To Favor A Push Towards The $3 Mark For Gasoline, While Diesel Prices May Need To Be Dragged Along For The Ride

Energy prices are rallying once again with the expected Iranian attack on Israel over the weekend appearing to be the catalyst for the move. RBOB gasoline futures are leading the way once again, trading up more than a nickel on the day to reach a fresh 7 month high at $2.8280. Charts continue to favor a push towards the $3 mark for gasoline, while diesel prices may need to be dragged along for the ride.

So far it appears that Motiva Pt. Arthur is the only refinery that experienced a noteworthy upset from the storms that swept across the southern half of the country this week. Those storms also delayed the first round of the Masters, which matters more to most traders this week than the refinery upset.

Chevron’s El Segundo refinery in the LA-area reported an unplanned flaring event Thursday, but the big moves once again came from the San Francisco spot market that saw diesel prices rally sharply to 25 cent premiums to futures. The Bay Area now commands the highest prices for spot gasoline and diesel as the conversion of 1 out of the 4 remaining refineries to renewable output is not-surprisingly creating disruptions in the supply chain.

RIN values dropped back below the 50-cent mark, after the recovery rally ran out of steam last week. The EPA is facing numerous legal challenges on the RFS and other policies, and now half of the US states are challenging the agency’s new rule restricting soot emissions. That lack of clarity on what the law actually is or may be is having widespread impacts on environmental credits around the world and makes enforcement of such policies a bit of a joke. Speaking of which, the EPA did just fine a South Carolina company $2.8 million and require that it buy and retire 9 million RINs for improper reporting from 2013-2019. The cost of those RINs now is about 1/3 of what it was this time last year, so slow playing the process definitely appears to have paid off in this case.

The IEA continues to do its best to downplay global demand for petroleum, once again reducing its economic outlook in its Monthly Report even though the EIA and OPEC continue to show growth, and the IEA’s own data shows “Robust” activity in the first quarter of the year. The IEA has come under fire from US lawmakers for changing its priorities from promoting energy security, to becoming a cheerleader for energy transition at the expense of reality.

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

Pivotal Week For Price Action
Market TalkThursday, Apr 11 2024

Diesel Prices Continue To Be The Weak Link In The Energy Chain

Energy prices are ticking modestly lower this morning, despite warnings from the US that an Iranian attack on Israeli interest is “imminent” and reports of weather induced refinery outages, as demand fears seem to be outweighing supply fears temporarily. Diesel prices continue to be the weak link in the energy chain with both the DOE and OPEC reports giving the diesel bears reason to believe lower prices are coming.

The March PPI report showed a lower inflation reading for producers than the Consumer Price Index report, leading to an immediate bounce in equity futures after the big wave of selling we saw yesterday. To put the CPI impact in perspective, a week ago Fed Fund futures were pricing in an 80% chance of an interest rate cut by the FED’s July 31 meeting, and today those odds have shrunk to 40% according to the CME’s FedWatch tool.

OPEC’s monthly oil market report held a steady outlook for economic growth and oil demand from last month’s report, noting the healthy momentum of economic activity in the US. The cartel’s outlook also highlighted significant product stock increases last month that weighed heavily on refining margins, particularly for diesel. Given the US focus on ULSD futures that are deliverable on the East Coast, which continues to have relatively tight supply for diesel, it’s easy to overlook how quickly Asian markets have gotten long on distillates unless of course you’re struggling through the slog of excess supply in numerous west coast markets these days. The OPEC report noted this in a few different ways, including a 33% decline in Chinese product exports as the region simply no longer needs its excess. The cartel’s oil output held steady during March with only small changes among the countries as they hold to their output cut agreements.

If you believe the DOE’s diesel demand estimates, there’s reason to be concerned about domestic consumption after a 2nd straight week of big declines. The current estimate below 3 million barrels/day is something we typically only see the week after Christmas when many businesses shut their doors. We know the DOE’s figures are missing about 5% of total demand due to Renewable Diesel not being included in the weekly stats, and it’s common to see a drop the week after a holiday, but to lose more than a million barrels/day of consumption in just 2 weeks will keep some refiners on edge.

Most PADDs continue to follow their seasonal trends on gasoline with 1 and 2 still in their normal draw down period, while PADD 3 is rebuilding inventories faster than normal following the transition to summer grade products. That rapid influx of inventory in PADD 3 despite robust export activity helps explain the spike in premiums to ship barrels north on Colonial over the past 2 weeks. Gasoline also saw a sizeable drop in its weekly demand estimate, but given the holiday hangover effect, and the fact that it’s in line with the past 2 years, there’s not as much to be concerned about with that figure. While most of the activity happens in PADDs 1-3, the biggest disconnect is coming in PADDs 4 and 5, with gasoline prices in some Colorado markets being sold 50 cents or more below futures, while prices in some California markets are approaching 90 cents above futures.

Severe weather sweeping across the southern US knocked several units offline at Motiva’s Pt Arthur plant (the country’s largest refinery) Wednesday, and it seems likely that Louisiana refineries will see some disruption from the storm that spawned tornadoes close to the Mississippi River refining hub. So far cash markets haven’t reacted much, but they’ll probably need more time to see what damage may have occurred.

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