U.S. Equity Markets Rally To Record Highs

Market TalkTuesday, Dec 29 2020
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U.S. equity markets are rallying to new record highs this week, and energy markets are trying to follow them as trading winds down for this most unusual year.

The house of representatives approved an increase in stimulus checks, sending that bill to the Senate today for approval. The House also voted to override the president’s veto of the latest defense spending bill, encouraging markets that the dollar printing presses won’t be slowing down anytime soon. Extra liquidity/aka stimulus pushes down the value of the dollar, which is correlating to stronger commodity prices, a phenomenon that had gone largely dormant, but was a major force in markets for years following the 2008 financial crisis.

While the news from Washington has Wall Street in Risk On mode, the reaction so far in energy markets is relatively muted with the complex seeming to have entered a period of sideways trading after seven weeks of gains. Most technical indicators have moved into neutral territory, which should keep the action choppy but aimless until we see the range set over the past week broken. For WTI that’s a move above $49 or below $46.  For RBOB gasoline that will mean a break above $1.40 or below $1.30, and for ULSD the range seems to be set from $1.42 to $1.52.

Numerous mobility tracking data sets have become popular since the start of COVID-related shutdowns and the driving-specific data points have become a decent proxy for gasoline demand.  The 2 charts below show both the seasonal slowdown, and the near-halt in movement over Christmas.  The second chart also shows how two major metro areas (LA and Dallas Counties) see similar trajectories, but different demand outlooks based on their stay-at-home orders, or lack thereof. 

Money managers continued to increase their bets on higher gasoline and crude oil prices last week according to the CFTC’s weekly report, but cut their length in diesel contracts. The net length held by the large speculative category of traders reached their highest levels since COVID hit the U.S. In other words, hedge funds like betting on higher gasoline prices when RBOB is trading around $1.40 than they did in April when prices were trading below $.50, or at the start of November when they were sub $1.

There’s a similar bullish enthusiasm being noted in U.S. equity markets as borrowing to invest reaches new records even after many stocks are already trading at all-time highs. This type of sentiment extreme can be seen as a contrary indicator since at some point the market runs out of new money to keep pushing prices higher, and leveraged liquidation can be particularly volatile. 

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

TACenergy MarketTalk 122920

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Pivotal Week For Price Action
Market TalkTuesday, Jan 31 2023

ULSD Prices Drop Despite Looming Russian Supply Ban

ULSD continues to lead the energy complex lower as January winds to a close, dropping from a high of $3.58 one week ago to a low of $3.0570 this morning. Crude oil and gasoline prices have also come under heavy pressure, but have lagged far behind the moves in ULSD, which has pushed prompt diesel crack spreads by down by $12/barrel in just a week.

Why exactly diesel prices got so weak so fast is a bit of a mystery given that inventories remain well below their seasonal ranges, refineries across the country are running below normal levels due to a rash of unplanned issues, and the embargo on Russian diesel shipments starts this weekend. 

The warmer than expected winter has certainly eased concerns of more severe shortages of natural gas and heating oil across Europe and the US North East, but European natural gas prices have been rebounding as temperatures are expected to drop again next week, and French workers are attempting to block more fuel deliveries today as part of the ongoing strikes against state pension reform. 

Recession expectations could be a factor in this pullback, as they were during the last 2022 selloff as earnings season is showing that US consumers are slowing down purchases, while the FED is poised for another rate hike tomorrow.   

Liquidations by the hedge funds that added new bets on higher prices last week, just in time for this pullback could also be at play, although we won’t get to see that data again until Friday. 

The drop could be a sign of the classic “buy the rumor, sell the news” trading phenomenon with the upcoming Russian embargo, particularly given that exports have surged in recent weeks as buyers race to beat the deadline. 

There’s also a real possibility that there simply is not a fundamental reason at all for this price pullback, and it has more to do with the big speculative funds that can be the fair weather fans of commodity markets, or the trading algorithms that account for most daily volume being programmed to sell after an 82 cent rally from a low of $2.76 in early December to $3.58 last week.

Whatever the cause, ULSD is now breaking its weekly trendline that propelled prices higher for 7 weeks, and sets up a test of the January lows at $2.92 if they can’t manage a bounce in the next day or two.  Then again, if they do bounce, this 50 cent pullback in 5 trading days may be seen as nothing more than the latest big swing in an extraordinarily volatile market and a good buying opportunity for anyone that has a fuel budget.

Pretty much everyone expects the FED to raise rates by 25 basis points tomorrow, with the CME’s fedwatch tool showing a 99% probability of that outcome, and 85% that they’ll raise another 25 points in March.   The big question is whether or not the FED will be done raising rates after that, with traders fairly evenly split in their bets on the rates beyond the next two months.

Exxon, Marathon and P66 all reported earnings for Q4 today, and surprised no-one with their strong results, even though refining margins pulled back from the record levels set earlier in the year. 

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

Pivotal Week For Price Action
Market TalkMonday, Jan 30 2023

Energy Futures Tumbling Again to Speculator's Chagrin

Diesel futures are leading the energy complex lower for a 2nd straight day and have dropped 24 cents from Friday’s highs. In total, ULSD futures are down 39 cents from the highs set last Tuesday, and the bulls are now in rally-or-else territory as the 6-week-old trend line is suddenly under pressure. The moves for RBOB have been less dramatic, with gasoline prices “only” dropping 11 cents since Friday morning’s highs, which leaves more room to fall before gasoline threatens its weekly trend-lines.

The big selloff looks like it will have several hedge funds wishing for a do-over after adding to their bets on higher fuel prices last week. The big 5 NYMEX and ICE contracts all saw healthy increases in long positions held by money managers in the latest report from the CFTC, while Brent, WTI and ULSD contracts also saw heavy short covering, just before those bets on lower prices would have paid off.  

Open interest in crude and refined product contracts saw another week of healthy increases, making it appear that the recent reduction in volatility has more traders getting comfortable returning to the petroleum space after many bailed out during the chaotic trading in 2022.

The timing of this latest pullback in diesel prices is particularly curious given that we’re now less than a week away from the highly anticipated embargos on Russian distillates taking effect.  European imports of Russian diesel have surged in recent weeks to get supplies in before the restrictions take place, which may be causing some short-term excess supply, although longer term there are still major concerns about distillate supplies globally.

There’s another winter storm warning issued to oil and gas pipeline operators in Texas this week, but the freezing temperatures aren’t expected to extend south into the refinery zone along the Gulf Coast, so we should not see a widespread impact from this system like we did in December.   

A study published by the Environmental Integrity Project is getting a fair amount of press as it highlights the water pollution caused by US oil refineries and the failure of the EPA to enforce the Clean Water Act.  The study could end up being a catalyst that forces the EPA to update its 40-year-old standards for wastewater disposal or may be ignored if higher fuel prices become a bigger news story again this year.

Baker Hughes reported a drop of 4 oil rigs drilling in the US last week, offset for a 2nd straight week by an increase in natural gas drilling rigs. Notable this week was that the decline in oil drilling was almost all in waters off the Louisiana coast, while the Permian basin saw a net increase of 3 rigs. 

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

Pivotal Week For Price Action
Market TalkFriday, Jan 27 2023

Energy Markets Seeing Modest Gains To Start Friday's Session

Energy markets are seeing modest gains to start Friday’s session, chipping away at the heavy losses we saw earlier in the week.  

If prices end near current levels, gasoline prices will be down about a penny for the week while distillates will be down by a nickel, and the weekly charts still have a higher high and higher low than last week, keeping the upward trend intact. 

While the pullback Tuesday and Wednesday eased immediate concerns of another runaway rally for fuel prices, warning signs are already flashing that retail fuel prices are back up to $3.50 per gallon during some of the weakest demand of the year, while refiners are still able to blend large amounts of butane into fuel to stretch supplies. With inventories already low and numerous refineries struggling, the stage is set fundamentally for a big rally in the weeks ahead, and technical indicators suggest there’s plenty of room for more upside as the upward trend started in December is still intact despite this week’s selling.

Are we striking or not? That seems to be the question for French unions that tried again Thursday to disrupt operations at refineries and nuclear power plants Thursday, but saw participation wane as cold temperatures increased heating demand and increased the risk of backlash for interfering with fuel deliveries. There’s another strike planned for next week, so the risk to supplies remains if that lasts more than a day or two.

Chevron reported record profits in 2022, even though Q4 earnings pulled back substantially from the prior 2 quarters as fuel prices retreated. The company’s refinery earnings were more than triple 2021 levels, in what is certainly going to be a theme for the rest of the earnings releases upcoming. Of course these companies remain easy targets for politicians wanting to place blame for high fuel prices. The “drill more or else” mantra is probably overlooking that while the on shore rig counts have stagnated, the offshore business is booming once again

While refined products are recovering, natural gas prices have continued to slide, dropping below $3 for the first time since May of 2021 as inventories swell and weather reports suggest that much warmer winter than previously forecast is still in the cards. Those cheap prices may not last long however as the Freeport LNG Export facility received FERC approval to begin the long process of restarting its operations. That facility accounted for 15% of US exports before a fire last June and has kept domestic prices suppressed as those supplies were stranded inland.

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