ULSD Futures Are Continuing To Lead The Charge This Morning, Rallying Nearly 10 Cents At Their Highest Point Of The Day So Far

Market TalkFriday, Jan 12 2024
Pivotal Week For Price Action

Energy prices are surging Friday after the US and UK conducted airstrikes on at least 16 locations in Yemen overnight targeting Houthi rebel assets that have been attacking ships in the Red Sea. Following the attacks, the Combined Maritime Forces group working to secure the shipping lanes in the region requested all ships to avoid the Bab Al Mandab strait, which essentially shuts off transit through the Red Sea and Suez Canal for several days, signaling that there are more attacks planned.

Perhaps just as noteworthy as the price rally this week, is the fact that we’re still seeing oil prices at or below $80/barrel, and retail gasoline prices around $3 or less across most of the country. That relative lack of reaction to escalating violence in the world’s key energy production region which is a testament to how increased supply from the US is acting as a buffer to the global market. For those that worked in the industry 12-15 years ago, just imagine what events like this would have done to prices back then. 

ULSD futures are continuing to lead the charge this morning, rallying nearly 10 cents at their highest point of the day so far, and coming just about a penny shy of closing the chart gap at $2.80 that’s been the short term technical target this week. If prices can break above $2.80 there’s a good chance, we see a run towards $2.95 in the near future as the contract completes its W pattern. RBOB futures have hit their highest level of the new year but are facing some resistance around the $2.20 mark. A break above that level suggests another 10 cents of upside in short order, but the chart indicators remain less supportive of gasoline than they do diesel prices, consistent with their seasonal norms. 

Speaking of seasonal patterns, it’s mid-January and blizzard warnings are covering large parts of the country. A severe cold snap following this latest storm has many concerned that we could see a repeat of 2021’s disastrous polar plunge that ended up causing the most severe refinery disruption in history. Unlike that storm that knocked every single refinery in Texas offline, the average low temperature across the state is expected to remain in double digits and will only last 2-3 days so the electric grid failure is less likely this time around. Refinery row along the Gulf Coast looks like it will be spared the worst of this cold weather although lows in the 20s from Corpus Christi to Houston will have some operators holding their breath. Several inland Texas refineries like the Valero and P66 facilities in the Panhandle and Delek’s Big Spring and Tyler plants all look particularly vulnerable as some forecasts suggest record low temperatures could hit the northern parts of the state. 

Midcontinent refiners are more used to dealing with the cold temps, but lows near zero in Oklahoma and double-digit negatives from Kansas through the Chicago region will no doubt cause some operational issues. The East Coast has already seen one of its refineries shut down due to the winter storms this week and will have to deal with more severe threats as this storm passes. The major population centers along the coast aren’t forecasted to get the extreme cold after the storm passes like other parts of the country so the chaos of curtailments in natural gas supplies that would cause a run on the tight diesel supplies in the region should be limited. 

Of course, it’s not just the supply network at risk from these storms. This weather has already put a dent in fuel demand as vehicles are forced off the roads in some areas, and many more have or will choose to just stay home for several days. That impact, unlike a major hurricane that hits coastal refineries but leaves the rest of the country open for business, should dampen the impact on fuel prices.

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

Market Talk Update 1.12.2024

News & Views

View All
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.

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

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.

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