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Volatility Returns To The Energy Arena

Friday, Mar 26 2021
Market Talk

March madness is not disappointing this year as volatility returns to the energy arena, making 5% price swings a common occurrence. This week’s action has been a rollercoaster with huge selloffs Tuesday and Thursday surrounded by strong rallies Monday, Wednesday and Friday that have kept the selling that started last week from snowballing into an outright price collapse.

When this type of wild back and forth action happens, it helps to look at the weekly charts to get a sense for the bigger picture, and to see that despite multiple days of 8 cent or greater moves, ULSD futures are only down 2 cents on the week, while RBOB prices are up 1.5, and those small net moves have done little to change the technical outlook going forward. That said, this type of manic price movement is often seen at the end of a trend, so there’s still a strong case to be made that after a huge rally from November-March, lower prices are coming, and could be here soon if chart support breaks next week.

The Suez canal blockage continues to be a major story this week, with new estimates suggesting it may take weeks not days to clear the stranded ship. While that continues to be an easy headline to pin the blame on a rally, it doesn’t explain why oil and product prices 6 months forward are rallying about the same amount this morning.  

On the flip side, European COVID lockdowns are the easy smoking gun for the days when prices collapse, even though it would be hard to justify prices 1 year forward dropping due to those temporary measures. The drop in European demand should also help limit the fallout from the Suez canal blockage that’s keeping some 3 million barrels/day of oil and refined products stranded at sea.

There does seem to be a “risk on” vs. “risk off” feel to the wild back and forth this week, even though the correlation between daily price moves between equity, currency and energy markets is almost non-existent.  

Today’s refining lesson: Don’t rain oil on your neighbors. The EPA announced it was pulling an expansion permit for the Limetree Bay (FKS Hovensa) refinery in St. Croix after multiple lawsuits filed to challenge its restart. It’s important to note that decision will not halt operations at the refinery, but will make expansion a challenge, and given the events of the past two months feels like just the start of the regulatory changes coming. For those that were around when Hovensa was operating, its location and ability to import barrels all along the U.S. East Coast often gave its operations an outsized influence on (NY Harbor based) RBOB and ULSD prices.

The Dallas Fed’s energy survey for March showed a strong recovery in oil and gas operations as producers that had been on the brink for much of the past year took advantage of the rally in prices. Continued expansion is predicted in the survey results, and the chart of break evens shows that we should see operations continue to increase with just about all basins securely in the black at current price levels.

Los Angeles has revealed a study that would allow it to use 100% renewable energy sources to power its electric grid by 2035, even as it remains one of the only coal burning municipalities left in the state. The plan is simple: “Build solar farms, wind turbines and batteries as fast as possible.” The plan to pay for it is: not part of the study. 

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

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