Crude prices are heading lower again, rounding out a downbeat week, as the expectation of an OPEC production cut extension is more than outweighed by an ongoing lopsided market. As oversupply fears enter the fray once more, hark, here are five things to consider in oil markets today:
1) OPEC crude exports so far this month are down compared to March, led by a drop from Saudi Arabia and Iran. Nonetheless, total global crude loadings continue to tick higher, holding above 50 million barrels per day.
As our ClipperData illustrate below, global loadings continue to grow - and strongly - on a year-over-year basis, as global producers have ratcheted up output, and more recently, on signs of crude potentially shifting out of onshore storage.
2) While there has been considerable focus of late on the elevated nature of OECD inventories, there has also been the suggestion that crude is instead being drawn down from areas where there is less transparancy and visibility, such as the Caribbean.
Six locations in the Carribbean export crude (not including Curacao, as it is a stepping stone for Venezuelan exports): Trinidad & Tobago, St. Lucia, St. Croix, Cayman Islands, the Bahamas and Aruba. Loadings from these six averaged 400,000 bpd last year. Year-to-date, this number is slightly lower, at 380,000 bpd - but this is due to a slow start to the year; March and April loadings are picking up. There has been one particularly interesting development of late.
Arclight Capital / Freepoint took over the Hovensa refinery complex in St. Croix in early 2016 after a period of inactivity, and is transforming it into a storage hub. We can see from our ClipperData that it started pulling in crude for storage in mid-last year, receiving regular deliveries each month of mostly heavier grades - such as Castilla Blend and Maya.
Its appetite changed this year, pulling in lighter crude instead such as Ekofisk from the North Sea, and WTI in recent months. This makes sense, given that lighter grades are more readily available this year, as heavier and sour crude gets bid up amid the OPEC production cut deal.
In terms of exports from St. Croix, we saw a loading bound for Portugal in November, then a three-month absence. Since the start of March, however, we have seen three loadings. Combine this with a tick higher in loadings from Aruba and St Lucia, and a trend may be potentially emerging.
3) Since the start of the year, non-Canadian companies have sold more than $20 billion of Canadian oil sands assets, as companies switch their focus to short-cycle oil projects instead, such as U.S. shale.
This drying up of international investment has been offset by Canadian companies such as Cenovus Energy, Suncor and Canadian Natural Resources stepping up instead, with the expectation that their local knowledge, relationships and sharing of proprietary technologies will make the oil sands a much more viable option going forward.
Oil sands accounted for 2.4 million barrels per day of production in 2015 (hark, below), accounting for nearly two-thirds of Canadian output.
According to OPEC, total Canadian production rose a further 80,000 bpd last year to average 4.5mn bpd. Ongoing production growth is expected this year, with an increase of 210,000 bpd to average 4.71mn bpd - driven by production ramp ups for both bitumen and synthetic oil projects.
4) Yesterday we looked at drilled but uncompleted wells (DUCs, quack) in the Permian basin. The chart below adds a bit more color, showing both drilled and completed wells. As a reader rightly commented on yesterday's blog, this rise in DUCs is likely due to operators ensuring they maintain their land leases.
The rise in the drilled wells is likely a response to improving confidence in the oil sector, while the rising DUCs point to higher production ahead when market conditions become more favorable (think: services costs and/or oil prices).
The graphic below is also from the Dallas Fed's latest energy indicators, showing the change in the Texas rig count by county from May 2016 to March 2017. The Permian Basin, not surprisingly, has been the biggest beneficiary, accounting for the three counties with the biggest rig count increases: Reeves (+31), Martin (+15) and Howard (+14).
5) Finally, stat of the day comes from this WSJ article, which highlights that Chinese refining capacity has tripled this century, now accounting for 15 percent of the global total (at the end of 2015). This is ~20 percent higher than Chinese domestic demand. CNPC, China's largest oil company, project that refining capacity will increase by 5 percent in 2017, leading to higher product exports going forward.
Countering this view is the implementation of a consumption tax in China on mixed aromatics, light cycle oil and bitumen blend, which could ultimately hit exports of oil products.
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Recent headlines on the oil industry have focused squarely on the upstream side: the amount of crude oil that is being produced and the resulting effect on oil prices, against a backdrop of the Covid-19 pandemic. But that is just one part of the supply chain. To be sold as final products, crude oil needs to be refined into its constituent fuels, each of which is facing its own crisis because of the overall demand destruction caused by the virus. And once the dust settles, the global refining industry will look very different.
Because even before the pandemic broke out, there was a surplus of refining capacity worldwide. According to the BP Statistical Review of World Energy 2019, global oil demand was some 99.85 mmb/d. However, this consumption figure includes substitute fuels – ethanol blended into US gasoline and biodiesel in Europe and parts of Asia – as well as chemical additives added on to fuels. While by no means an exact science, extrapolating oil demand to exclude this results in a global oil demand figure of some 95.44 mmb/d. In comparison, global refining capacity was just over 100 mmb/d. This overcapacity is intentional; since most refineries do not run at 100% utilisation all the time and many will shut down for scheduled maintenance periodically, global refining utilisation rates stand at about 85%.
Based on this, even accounting for differences in definitions and calculations, global oil demand and global oil refining supply is relatively evenly matched. However, demand is a fluid beast, while refineries are static. With the Covid-19 pandemic entering into its sixth month, the impact on fuels demand has been dramatic. Estimates suggest that global oil demand fell by as much as 20 mmb/d at its peak. In the early days of the crisis, refiners responded by slashing the production of jet fuel towards gasoline and diesel, as international air travel was one of the first victims of the virus. As national and sub-national lockdowns were introduced, demand destruction extended to transport fuels (gasoline, diesel, fuel oil), petrochemicals (naphtha, LPG) and power generation (gasoil, fuel oil). Just as shutting down an oil rig can take weeks to complete, shutting down an entire oil refinery can take a similar timeframe – while still producing fuels that there is no demand for.
Refineries responded by slashing utilisation rates, and prioritising certain fuel types. In China, state oil refiners moved from running their sites at 90% to 40-50% at the peak of the Chinese outbreak; similar moves were made by key refiners in South Korea and Japan. With the lockdowns easing across most of Asia, refining runs have now increased, stimulating demand for crude oil. In Europe, where the virus hit hard and fast, refinery utilisation rates dropped as low as 10% in some cases, with some countries (Portugal, Italy) halting refining activities altogether. In the USA, now the hardest-hit country in the world, several refineries have been shuttered, with no timeline on if and when production will resume. But with lockdowns easing, and the summer driving season up ahead, refinery production is gradually increasing.
But even if the end of the Covid-19 crisis is near, it still doesn’t change the fundamental issue facing the refining industry – there is still too much capacity. The supply/demand balance shows that most regions are quite even in terms of consumption and refining capacity, with the exception of overcapacity in Europe and the former Soviet Union bloc. The regional balances do hide some interesting stories; Chinese refining capacity exceeds its consumption by over 2 mmb/d, and with the addition of 3 new mega-refineries in 2019, that gap increases even further. The only reason why the balance in Asia looks relatively even is because of oil demand ‘sinks’ such as Indonesia, Vietnam and Pakistan. Even in the US, the wealth of refining capacity on the Gulf Coast makes smaller refineries on the East and West coasts increasingly redundant.
Given this, the aftermath of the Covid-19 crisis will be the inevitable hastening of the current trend in the refining industry, the closure of small, simpler refineries in favour of large, complex and more modern refineries. On the chopping block will be many of the sub-50 kb/d refineries in Europe; because why run a loss-making refinery when the product can be imported for cheaper, even accounting for shipping costs from the Middle East or Asia? Smaller US refineries are at risk as well, along with legacy sites in the Middle East and Russia. Based on current trends, Europe alone could lose some 2 mmb/d of refining capacity by 2025. Rising oil prices and improvements in refining margins could ensure the continued survival of some vulnerable refineries, but that will only be a temporary measure. The trend is clear; out with the small, in with the big. Covid-19 will only amplify that. It may be a painful process, but in the grand scheme of things, it is also a necessary one.
Infographic: Global oil consumption and refining capacity (BP Statistical Review of World Energy 2019)
|Region||Consumption (mmb/d)*||Refining Capacity (mmb/d)|
*Extrapolated to exclude additives and substitute fuels (ethanol, biodiesel)
End of Article
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Source: U.S. Energy Information Administration, based on Bloomberg L.P. data
Note: All prices except West Texas Intermediate (Cushing) are spot prices.
The New York Mercantile Exchange (NYMEX) front-month futures contract for West Texas Intermediate (WTI), the most heavily used crude oil price benchmark in North America, saw its largest and swiftest decline ever on April 20, 2020, dropping as low as -$40.32 per barrel (b) during intraday trading before closing at -$37.63/b. Prices have since recovered, and even though the market event proved short-lived, the incident is useful for highlighting the interconnectedness of the wider North American crude oil market.
Changes in the NYMEX WTI price can affect other price markers across North America because of physical market linkages such as pipelines—as with the WTI Midland price—or because a specific price is based on a formula—as with the Maya crude oil price. This interconnectedness led other North American crude oil spot price markers to also fall below zero on April 20, including WTI Midland, Mars, West Texas Sour (WTS), and Bakken Clearbrook. However, the usefulness of the NYMEX WTI to crude oil market participants as a reference price is limited by several factors.
Source: U.S. Energy Information Administration
First, NYMEX WTI is geographically specific because it is physically redeemed (or settled) at storage facilities located in Cushing, Oklahoma, and so it is influenced by events that may not reflect the wider market. The April 20 WTI price decline was driven in part by a local deficit of uncommitted crude oil storage capacity in Cushing. Similarly, while the price of the Bakken Guernsey marker declined to -$38.63/b, the price of Louisiana Light Sweet—a chemically comparable crude oil—decreased to $13.37/b.
Second, NYMEX WTI is chemically specific, meaning to be graded as WTI by NYMEX, a crude oil must fall within the acceptable ranges of 12 different physical characteristics such as density, sulfur content, acidity, and purity. NYMEX WTI can therefore be unsuitable as a price for crude oils with characteristics outside these specific ranges.
Finally, NYMEX WTI is time specific. As a futures contract, the price of a NYMEX WTI contract is the price to deliver 1,000 barrels of crude oil within a specific month in the future (typically at least 10 days). The last day of trading for the May 2020 contract, for instance, was April 21, with physical delivery occurring between May 1 and May 31. Some market participants, however, may prefer more immediate delivery than a NYMEX WTI futures contract provides. Consequently, these market participants will instead turn to shorter-term spot price alternatives.
Taken together, these attributes help to explain the variety of prices used in the North American crude oil market. These markers price most of the crude oils commonly used by U.S. buyers and cover a wide geographic area.
Principal contributor: Jesse Barnett