Kazakhstan, an oil producer since 1911, has the second-largest oil reserves and the second-largest oil production among the former Soviet republics after Russia.
Kazakhstan is a major oil producer. The country’s estimated total petroleum and other liquids production was 1.698 million barrels per day (b/d) in 2016. The key to its continued growth in liquids production from this level is the development of its giant Tengiz, Karachaganak, and Kashagan fields. Development of additional export capacity will also be necessary for production growth.
Although Kazakhstan became an oil producer in 1911, its production did not increase to a meaningful level until the 1960s and 1970s, when production plateaued at nearly 500,000 b/d, a pre-Soviet independence record production level. Since the mid-1990s, and with the help of major international oil companies, Kazakhstan's production first exceeded 1 million b/d in 2003.
Oil field development in Kazakhstan reached two milestones in 2016. In October 2016, the giant Kashagan field resumed production after years of delays. Kashagan is expected to produce 370,000 b/d of liquids at full capacity. Additionally, in July 2016, The Tengizchevroil consortium decided to proceed with expansion plans that should increase liquids production at the Tengiz project by about 260,000 b/d beginning in 2022.
Kazakhstan is landlocked and is far from international oil markets. The lack of access to the open ocean makes the country dependent mainly on pipelines to transport its hydrocarbons to world markets. Kazakhstan is also a transit country for oil and natural gas pipeline exports to China.
Kazakhstan consumed 2.66 quadrillion British thermal units (Btu) of energy in 2014, with coal accounting for the largest share of energy consumed (63%), followed by petroleum and natural gas (18% and 16%, respectively) (Figure 2).
Kazakhstan is a Caspian Sea littoral state. The legal status of the Caspian area remains unresolved, mainly driven by a lack of agreement on whether the Caspian is a sea or a lake. Until all states agree on a definition, the legal status of the area will remain unresolved.
Oil field development in Kazakhstan reached two milestones in 2016. In October 2016, Kashagan field resumed production after years of delays. In July 2016, the Tengizchevroil consortium made a final investment decision on a project to increase liquids production by about 260,000 b/d.
According to the Oil & Gas Journal (OGJ), Kazakhstan had proved crude oil reserves of 30 billion barrels as of January 2017–the second–largest endowment in Eurasia after Russia, and the twelfth largest in the world, just behind the United States.1 Kazakhstan's current oil production (Figure 3) has been dominated by two giant onshore fields in the northwest of the country: Tengiz and Karachaganak, which together produced about half of Kazakhstan’s total petroleum liquids output in 2016. The offshore Kashagan field, in Kazakhstan’s part of the Caspian Sea, started production in October 2016. At full capacity, Kashagan will join Tengiz and Karachaganak as the three largest producing fields in Kazakhstan. Additionally, in July 2016, The Tengizchevroil consortium decided to proceed with expansion plans that should increase liquids production at the Tengiz project by about 260,000 b/d beginning in 2022.
The Ministry of Energy oversees the oil and natural gas industry in Kazakhstan. In August 2014, Kazakhstan’s president, Nursultan Nazarbayev, announced an extensive government reorganization with the intention of creating a more compact and effective government. The number of ministries in the government was reduced from 17 to 12, and the Ministry of Energy was created to absorb the functions of the Ministry of Oil and Gas and parts of the functions of the Ministry for Industry and New Technologies and the Ministry for Environment and Water Resources.2
The national oil and natural gas company, KazMunaiGaz (KMG), represents the state's interests in Kazakhstan's oil and gas industry. KMG was created in 2002 and holds equity interests in Karachaganak (10%), Kashagan (16.88%), and Tengiz (20%), as well as interests ranging between 33% and 100% in many other production projects.3
Kazakhstan's Law on Subsoil and Subsoil Use (Subsoil Use Law) governs investments in the oil and natural gas industries. The Subsoil Use Law has been amended several times, most notably in 2005, 2007, 2010, and 2014. Among other provisions, the Subsoil Use Law along with the December 2009 Local Content Law established strict local content requirements for oil and gas contracts. The Subsoil Use Law also established the government’s right to preempt any sale of oil and gas assets. In 2013 Kazakhstan preempted ConocoPhillips sale of its 8.4% stake in the Kashagan project to India’s ONGC.
The preemption did not affect Conoco’s proceeds from the sale, but rather than going to ONGC, the stake was purchased by KMG before being resold to China’s CNPC.4
The government announced the re-introduction of oil export duties in August 2010, increasing the duty in subsequent years as oil prices climbed, and reducing the oil duty several times since 2014 when oil prices declined sharply. Export duties were first introduced in 2008 and then were suspended in January 2009. Export duties affect all oil exporters operating in Kazakhstan, with the exceptions of those that include a tax stabilization clause in their contracts.
In the 1970s, several large discoveries were made in presalt reservoirs, including Karachaganak and Tengiz. However, the development of these fields was not possible at the time because of the technical challenges of developing the deep, high-pressure reservoirs. Since international oil companies began to participate in Kazakhstan's petroleum sector and as presalt deposits became technically and commercially viable, these fields have become the foundation of the country's petroleum liquids production.
Although Kazakhstan is the second-largest liquid fuels producer among Former Soviet Union republics, its future as a producer of petroleum liquids depends on the development and expansion of its three largest projects: Karachaganak, Kashagan, and Tengiz (Table 1).5Kazakhstan’s two largest projects, Tengiz and Karachaganak, accounted for 50% (Tengiz 35%, Karachaganak 15%) of the country's production in 2016, according to data published by Energy Intelligence.6 When production at Kashagan (which started in October 2016) reaches full capacity, the combined output of all three projects is likely to account for at least 60% of Kazakhstan’s total production.
In July 2016, the Tengiz partners made a final investment decision to proceed with the Future Growth Project. This expansion project is expected to be completed by 2022, bringing about 260,000 b/d of additional liquids production from Tengiz. An expansion project has also been proposed for the Karachaganak field, but it is at a less-advanced stage of planning.
The Kashagan field, the largest known oil field outside the Middle East and the fifth largest in the world in terms of reserves, is located off the northern shore of the Caspian Sea near the city of Atyrau, Kazakhstan. Kashagan's recoverable reserves are estimated at 7 to 13 billion barrels of crude oil. On September 11, 2013, production from the super-giant field commenced, eight years after the originally scheduled startup date. In October 2013, just a few weeks after production began, production had to be halted because of leaks in the pipeline that transports natural gas from the field to shore. Production restarted in October 2016, and by January 2017, the field was producing more than 100,000 b/d of liquids. Full capacity for the first phase of development is production of 370,000 b/d.
Many of the repeated delays at Kashagan were the result of the field's adverse operating environment and complexity, resulting in significant cost overruns. The Kashagan reservoir is located more than 13,000 feet below the seabed and is under very high pressure (770 pounds per square inch). The reservoir contains high levels of hydrogen sulfide. Hydrogen sulfide is both highly toxic and highly corrosive and has been blamed for the pipeline leaks. In addition, conventional drilling and production technologies such as fixed or floating platforms cannot be used because of the shallow water and cold climate. Instead, offshore facilities are installed on artificial islands (drilling and hub islands) that house drilling and processing equipment. The processing facilities separate recovered liquids from the gas, reinject a portion of the gas, and send the liquids and the remainder of the gas to shore for further processing. Before production could restart, the pipelines connecting the field with the onshore processing facilities had to be replaced using higher-grade materials that are more resistant to corrosion.Table 1. Kazakhstan's major oil and gas fieldsField nameCompaniesStart yearLiquids productionNatural gas productionTengiz (& Korolev)Chevron, ExxonMobil, KazMunaiGaz, LukArco (Lukoil and BP)1991570,000 thousand bbl/d total liquids production in 2016
Kazakhstan is an exporter of light, sweet crude oil. In 2016, Kazakhstan exported about 1.3 million b/d of crude oil and condensate, according to EIA estimates based on data from Global Trade Tracker and Lloyd's List Intelligence (APEX) (Figure 4).7 Most of Kazakhstan’s crude exports travel around or across the Caspian Sea to European markets. An additional 5% of Kazakhstan’s crude oil exports flowed east via a pipeline to China. A significant portion of Kazakhstan’s exports transit Italy and the Netherlands, making it difficult to determine where this crude oil ends up because Kazakhstan reports these volumes as having been delivered to the transit countries.
Kazakhstan's pipeline system is operated by the state-run KazTransOil, a subsidiary of KazMunaiGas, which runs approximately 3,400 miles of pipelines. Because of Kazakhstan’s landlocked location and the continued use of Soviet-era infrastructure, much of Kazakhstan’s oil and gas export infrastructure is integrated with major Caspian oil and natural gas export routes that interlink the region. Since independence, Kazakhstan has successfully expanded and diversified its export capabilities. Major crude oil export pipelines include the Caspian Pipeline Consortium pipeline to the Black Sea port of Novorossiysk, the Kazakhstan-China pipeline, and the Uzen-Atyrau-Samara pipeline to Russia (Figure 5).
Kazakhstan also exports crude oil via the Caspian Sea and via rail. Oil is loaded onto tankers or barges at Kazakhstan’s port of Aktau or the smaller Atyrau port and then shipped across the Caspian Sea, where it is loaded onto the Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan pipeline or the Northern Route pipeline (Baku-Novorossiysk) for onward transport, mainly to Europe. Additionally, Kazakhstan has an extensive rail network, which it uses to transport liquid fuels both for domestic consumption and for exports. Continued expansion and diversification of Kazakhstan’s petroleum liquids transport capacity, particularly export capacity, is key to its future ability to increase production.
Another potential export route for Caspian crude oil is via swaps with Iran. For years, Kazakhstan and other Central Asian countries delivered their crude oil to Iran’s Caspian Sea port of Neka. From there the crude oil was delivered to refineries in Tehran and Tabriz, with the refined products distributed and consumed in northern Iran. In exchange, Iran exported equal volumes of crude out of its Persian Gulf ports on behalf of Kazakhstan. Swap volumes have varied over the years, with little to no crude swapped since 2011. Sanctions against Iran reportedly complicated swap arrangements, especially the marketing of the crude oil exported in the Persian Gulf, which had been done by the Iranians. Also complicating the swap arrangements was Iran’s desire to raise the fee it charged Kazakhstan for each barrel of crude swapped. Since at least late 2013, Iran and Kazakhstan have been discussing resumption of the swap arrangement and have periodically announced their intentions to resume swaps, but no swaps had occurred as of the end of 2016.
Figure 5. Kazakhstan map of major crude oil pipelines
Kazakhstan’s main export oil grade is the CPC Blend. CPC Blend is a very light (45.3° API), sweet crude (0.56% sulfur)8 that is valued for its high yield of gasoline and light distillates. Production from the Tengiz field accounts for about 60% of the CPC blend. Other components include production from Karachaganak, Kashagan, and Kumkol fields, some Russian grades such as Siberian Light, along with a variety of other Russian and Kazakh grades.
Smaller volumes of many of the components of CPC Blend are also marketed separately as distinct crude oil grades. However, with the recent expansion of the CPC pipeline, the volumes of crude oil marketed separately have declined.
Kazakhstan had three major crude oil refineries with crude oil distillation capacity of 340,000 b/d as of January 1, 2017, according to OGJ.9 The three major oil refineries in Kazakhstan are: Pavlodar, Atyrau, and Shymkent. The Pavlodar refinery is in north-central Kazakhstan and is supplied mainly by a crude oil pipeline from western Siberia, because Russian supplies are well-placed geographically to serve that refinery. The Atyrau refinery uses only domestic crude oil from northwest Kazakhstan, and the Shymkent refinery currently uses crude from the oil fields at Kumkol and the nearby area in central Kazakhstan. There is also a smaller refinery at Aktau that processes heavy crude oil produced at a nearby field to make bitumen for road construction.10
The three main refineries meet approximately 70% of Kazakhstan’s gasoline and diesel demand, with most of the remaining demand met by imports from Russia. Upgrading projects were underway in early 2017 at all three refineries and are expected to be completed in late 2017 or early 2018. The upgrades will allow the three plants to produce fewer heavy products and more high-quality transportation fuels. With these upgrades, Kazakhstan aims to meet all domestic demand for gasoline and diesel production by 2019.11
Kazakhstan’s largest petroleum liquids fields also contain substantial volumes of natural gas, much of which is reinjected into oil wells to improve oil recovery rates.
OGJ estimated Kazakhstan’s proven natural gas reserves at 85 trillion cubic feet (Tcf) as of January 1, 2017.12 Most of Kazakhstan’s natural gas reserves are in crude oil or condensate-rich fields. The two largest petroleum liquids fields, Karachaganak and Tengiz, are also the two largest natural gas fields.
Over the past decade, annual gross natural gas production almost doubled, from 0.8 Tcf in 2005 to 1.5 Tcf in 2015. Much of Kazakhstan’s gross natural gas production is reinjected (more than 30% in 2015) to increase oil production. Much of the natural gas produced at Tengiz and Kashagan is high in sulfur, and therefore requires special handling and is more costly to process.
In 2016, the Karachaganak and Tengiz fields combined accounted for about 70% of Kazakhstan’s natural gas production.13 The Tengiz project includes a natural gas processing plant, which according to Chevron produced 274 billion cubic feet (Bcf) of dry marketed natural gas in 2016 that was sold to local consumers.14 The Karachaganak project has insufficient gas processing capacity. Most of the raw marketed production from the Karachaganak field must be exported to Russia to be processed at a gas processing plant in Orenberg.
Production restarted at the Kashagan field in October 2016. When the project reaches full capacity, it is expected to produce about 100 Bcf of natural gas per year for domestic consumption, with additional produced gas reinjected into the reservoir to boost liquids recovery.
Kazakhstan has two major export pipelines for natural gas (Figure 6). The Central Asia Centre pipeline (CAC), which traverses the western edge of Kazakhstan on its way to Russia and points further west, and the Turkmenistan-China pipeline, which traverses the southern edge of the country on its way to China. Both pipelines are part of the regional Caspian export infrastructure and mainly carry natural gas exports from Turkmenistan, along with smaller but still significant volumes of exports from Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan. The CAC pipeline also serves local natural gas demand in western Kazakhstan, including northwestern Kazakhstan where most of the country’s production is located.
A third major international pipeline, the Bukhara-Tashkent-Bishkek-Almaty pipeline, serves local demand in southern Kazakhstan. Two of Kazakhstan’s three underground natural gas storage facilities are located along this pipeline.
Natural gas production in Kazakhstan is concentrated in the northwest and, until recently, has not been connected to population centers in the south, north, center, and east. Prior to 2016, consumers in southern Kazakhstan were supplied with imported natural gas from Turkmenistan or Uzbekistan. However, in November 2015, KazTransGas, the state-owned natural gas pipeline operator, completed the final link in the new Beinu-Bozoi-Shymkent pipeline. This pipeline has allowed Kazakhstan to gasify communities along the route of the pipeline that previously had no access to gas. It has also connected the natural gas fields and infrastructure in the northwest of the country to the population centers in the south of the country, replacing imported natural gas in those markets with domestically produced gas. Completing this link has also connected Kazakshtan’s producing regions with the natural gas pipeline to China, allowing production from northwestern Kazakhstan to be exported to China. Kazakhstan has also discussed the possibility of using this infrastructure to transit Russian natural gas to China.
Plans for gasifying other parts of the country and connecting them to the existing infrastructure in the West and South are more uncertain. The vast distances and relatively low population density in the north, center, and east make the economics challenging for any potential gas pipeline projects to serve those regions. Kazakhstan contracted to import 5,000 metric tons of liquefied natural gas (LNG) in 2017 (about 0.2 Bcf of gaseous natural gas) from Russia by road to Astana, Kazakhstan’s capital, and other cities in the north of the country. Kazakhstan’s coal basins, which lie in the north and center of the country, could also be a source of natural gas supplies for areas of the country that are far from existing natural gas production and infrastructure. Kazakhstan has been exploring the potential to produce and market methane from coal mines and coal beds.
Figure 6. Kazakhstan map of major natural gas pipelines
In 2014, coal accounted for 56% of Kazakhstan’s total energy consumption.
With 28,225 million short tons (MMst) of total recoverable coal reserves as of 2014, Kazakhstan is in the top ten countries in the world in terms of coal reserves, coal production, and coal exports. It is also in the top fifteen countries in the world in terms of coal consumption. Despite being among the top coal countries, Kazakhstan is a relatively small contributor to global coal volumes. The top four countries globally account for disproportionate shares of total global coal reserves, production, consumption, and exports (between 65% and 75% combined), while Kazakhstan accounts for between 1% and 4%.
About a quarter of Kazakhstan’s coal production is exported, with most going to Russia. Virtually all of Kazakhstan’s coal production and exports consist of steam coal, which is suitable for burning in electric power plants or in other applications to generate steam and heat. Kazakhstan also produces smaller quantities of metallurgical coal that are consumed domestically. Kazakhstan is rich in a variety of minerals, with mineral and coal deposits concentrated in the north and center of the country. Coal is a major energy source for the mining and smelting industries and for the electricity sector in Kazakhstan.
Most of Kazakhstan's power generation comes from coal-fired power plants, concentrated in the north of the country near the coal-producing regions.
Kazakhstan's total installed generating capacity was 22.1 gigawatts (GW) as of 2017.15Kazakhstan's total generation in 2016 was 94.1 billion kilowatthours (BkWh) of electricity—of which 87% came from fossil fuel-fired plants, 12% came from hydropower plants, and less than 1% came from solar and wind installations.16
Kazakhstan's only nuclear power plant, a BN-350 nuclear reactor at Aktau, was shut down in 1999. Kazakhstan has some of the largest uranium deposits in the world and is the world's largest uranium producer.17 Although plans have long existed to build additional nuclear power plants, there has been little progress on constructing these units.
Kazakhstan's national grid is operated by the Kazakhstan's Electricity Grid Operating Company, a state-owned company, which is responsible for electric transmission and network management. A number of medium and small regional electricity companies handle distribution, some of which are privately owned. The electricity transmission and distribution sectors are considered to be natural monopolies and are regulated by the government. However, wholesale generation of power is considered to be a competitive market with most generation assets owned by private enterprises.
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Technology has indeed changed the way we think, act and react. Every activity we perform is directly or indirectly linked to technology one way or another. Like everything else, technology also has its pros and cons, depending on the way it is used. Since the advancement in cyberspace, scammers and hackers have started using advanced means to conduct fraud and cause damage to individuals as well as businesses online.
According to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), 1.4 million cases of fraud were reported in 2018 and in 25% of the cases, people said they lost money. People reported losing $1.48 billion to fraudulent practices in 2018. This has caused considerable loss to individuals and businesses. Global regulatory authorities have introduced KYC and AML compliances that businesses and individuals are encouraged to follow. However, banks and financial institutions have to follow them under all circumstances.
KYC or Know Your Customer refers to the process where a business attains information about its customers to verify their identities. It is a complex, time-taking process and customers nowadays don’t have the time or resources to deal with the government, consulate, and embassy offices for their KYC procedures. However, due to technological advancement, the identity verification process has been automated through the use of artificial intelligence systems. These systems seamlessly increase the accuracy and effectiveness of the identity verification process while reducing time and human efforts.
The following methods are used to digitally authenticate identities nowadays:
The use of artificial intelligence systems to detect facial structure and features for verification purposes.
The use of artificial intelligence systems to detect the authenticity of various documents to prevent fraud.
The use of artificial intelligence technology to verify addresses from documents to minimize the threat of fraudsters.
The use of multi-step verification to enhance the protection of your accounts by adding another security layer, usually involving your mobile phone.
The use of pre-set handwritten user consent to onboard only legitimate individuals.
Digital Document Verification
Document verification is an important method to conduct KYC or verify the identity of an individual. The process involves the end-user verifying the authenticity of his/her documents. In banks, financial institutions and other formal set-ups, customers are required to verify their personal details through the display of government-issued documents. The artificial intelligence software checks whether the documents are genuine or have been forged. If the documents are real and authentic, the digital documentation verification is completed and vice versa.
There are four steps that are mainly involved in the digital document verification process. First, the user displays his/her identity documents in front of the device camera. Then the document is critically analyzed by artificial intelligence software to check its authenticity. Forged or edited documents are rejected by the software. The artificial intelligence system then extracts relevant information from the document using OCR technology. The information is sent to the back-office of the verification provider and analyzed by human representatives to further validate the authenticity. Then the results are sent to the business or individual asking for the verification. The whole process takes less than five minutes.
The document authentication process can detect both major and minor faults in the documents. It can detect errors and faults in forged documents, counterfeed documents, stolen documents, camouflage or hidden documents, replica documents and even compromised documents. The verification process can be done on a personal computer or a mobile device using a camera. Although only government-issued documents are used for the authentication process, the following are accepted by most verification providers:
Govt ID Cards
Illegal and fraudulent transactions have dangerous consequences for both individuals as well as businesses. Losses due to scams and frauds trickle down at every level and ultimately have negative consequences on the whole system. Therefore it is imperative to conduct proper customer verification and due diligence in order to minimize the risks of fraud. Digital documentation verification plays a key role in the KYC process.
Headline crude prices for the week beginning 23 March 2020 – Brent: US$27/b; WTI: US$23/b
Headlines of the week
Crude oil prices have fallen significantly since the beginning of 2020, largely driven by the economic contraction caused by the 2019 novel coronavirus disease (COVID19) and a sudden increase in crude oil supply following the suspension of agreed production cuts among the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) and partner countries. With falling demand and increasing supply, the front-month price of the U.S. benchmark crude oil West Texas Intermediate (WTI) fell from a year-to-date high closing price of $63.27 per barrel (b) on January 6 to a year-to-date low of $20.37/b on March 18 (Figure 1), the lowest nominal crude oil price since February 2002.
WTI crude oil prices have also fallen significantly along the futures curve, which charts monthly price settlements for WTI crude oil delivery over the next several years. For example, the WTI price for December 2020 delivery declined from $56.90/b on January 2, 2020, to $32.21/b as of March 24. In addition to the sharp price decline, the shape of the futures curve has shifted from backwardation—when near-term futures prices are higher than longer-dated ones—to contango, when near-term futures prices are lower than longer-dated ones. The WTI 1st-13th spread (the difference between the WTI price in the nearest month and the price for WTI 13 months away) settled at -$10.34/b on March 18, the lowest since February 2016, exhibiting high contango. The shift from backwardation to contango reflects the significant increase in petroleum inventories. In its March 2020 Short-Term Energy Outlook (STEO), released on March 11, 2020, the U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA) forecast that Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) commercial petroleum inventories will rise to 2.9 billion barrels in March, an increase of 20 million barrels over the previous month and 68 million barrels over March 2019 (Figure 2). Since the release of the March STEO, changes in various oil market and macroeconomic indicators suggest that inventory builds are likely to be even greater than EIA’s March forecast.
Significant price volatility has accompanied both price declines and price increases. Since 1999, 69% of the time, daily WTI crude oil prices increased or decreased by less than 2% relative to the previous trading day. Daily oil price changes during March 2020 have exceeded 2% 13 times (76% of the month’s traded days) as of March 24. For example, the 10.1% decline on March 6 after the OPEC meeting was larger than 99.8% of the daily percentage price decreases since 1999. The 24.6% decline on March 9 and the 24.4% decline on March 18 were the largest and second largest percent declines, respectively, since at least 1999 (Figure 3).
On March 10, a series of government announcements indicated that emergency fiscal and monetary policy were likely to be forthcoming in various countries, which contributed to a 10.4% increase in the WTI price, the 12th-largest daily increase since 1999. During other highly volatile time periods, such as the 2008 financial crisis, both large price increases and decreases occurred in quick succession. During the 2008 financial crisis, the largest single-day increase—a 17.8% rise on September 22, 2008—was followed the next day by the largest single-day decrease, a 12.0% fall on September 23, 2008.
Market price volatility during the first quarter of 2020 has not been limited to oil markets (Figure 4). The recent volatility in oil markets has also coincided with increased volatility in equity markets because the products refined from crude oil are used in many parts of the economy and because the COVID-19-related economic slowdown affects a broad array of economic activities. This can be measured through implied volatility—an estimate of a security’s expected range of near-term price changes—which can be calculated using price movements of financial options and measured by the VIX index for the Standard and Poor’s (S&P) 500 index and the OVX index for WTI prices. Implied volatility for both the S&P 500 index and WTI are higher than the levels seen during the 2008 financial crisis, which peaked on November 20, 2008, at 80.9 and on December 11, 2008, at 100.4, respectively, compared with 61.7 for the VIX and 170.9 for the OVX as of March 24.
Comparing implied volatility for the S&P 500 index with WTI’s suggests that although recent volatility is not limited to oil markets, oil markets are likely more volatile than equity markets at this point. The oil market’s relative volatility is not, however, in and of itself unusual. Oil markets are almost always more volatile than equity markets because crude oil demand is price inelastic—whereby price changes have relatively little effect on the quantity of crude oil demanded—and because of the relative diversity of the companies constituting the S&P 500 index. But recent oil market volatility is still historically high, even in comparison to the volatility of the larger equity market. As denoted by the red line in the bottom of Figure 4, the difference between the OVX and VIX reached an all-time high of 124.1 on March 23, compared with an average difference of 16.8 between May 2007 (the date the OVX was launched) and March 24, 2020.
Markets currently appear to expect continued and increasing market volatility, and, by extension, increasing uncertainty in the pricing of crude oil. Oil’s current level of implied volatility—a forward-looking measure for the next 30 days—is also high relative to its historical, or realized, volatility. Historical volatility can influence the market’s expectations for future price uncertainty, which contributes to higher implied volatility. Some of this difference is a structural part of the market, and implied volatility typically exceeds historical volatility as sellers of options demand a volatility risk premium to compensate them for the risk of holding a volatile security. But as the yellow line in Figure 4 shows, the current implied volatility of WTI prices is still higher than normal. The difference between implied and historical volatility reached an all-time high of 44.7 on March 20, compared with an average difference of 2.3 between 2007 and March 2020. This trend could suggest that options (prices for which increase with volatility) are relatively expensive and, by extension, that demand for financial instruments to limit oil price exposure are relatively elevated.
Increased price correlation among several asset classes also suggests that similar economic factors are driving prices in a variety of markets. For example, both the correlation between changes in the price of WTI and changes in the S&P 500 and the correlation between WTI and other non-energy commodities (as measured by the S&P Commodity Index (GSCI)) increased significantly in March. Typically, when correlations between WTI and other asset classes increase, it suggests that expectations of future economic growth—rather than issues specific to crude oil markets— tend to be the primary drivers of price formation. In this case, price declines for oil, equities, and non-energy commodities all indicate that concerns over global economic growth are likely the primary force driving price formation (Figure 5).
U.S. average regular gasoline and diesel prices fall
The U.S. average regular gasoline retail price fell nearly 13 cents from the previous week to $2.12 per gallon on March 23, 50 cents lower than a year ago. The Midwest price fell more than 16 cents to $1.87 per gallon, the West Coast price fell nearly 15 cents to $2.88 per gallon, the East Coast and Gulf Coast prices each fell nearly 11 cents to $2.08 per gallon and $1.86 per gallon, respectively, and the Rocky Mountain price declined more than 8 cents to $2.24 per gallon.
The U.S. average diesel fuel price fell more than 7 cents from the previous week to $2.66 per gallon on March 23, 42 cents lower than a year ago. The Midwest price fell more than 9 cents to $2.50 per gallon, the West Coast price fell more than 7 cents to $3.25 per gallon, the East Coast and Gulf Coast prices each fell nearly 7 cents to $2.72 per gallon and $2.44 per gallon, respectively, and the Rocky Mountain price fell more than 6 cents to $2.68 per gallon.
Propane/propylene inventories decline
U.S. propane/propylene stocks decreased by 1.8 million barrels last week to 64.9 million barrels as of March 20, 2020, 15.5 million barrels (31.3%) greater than the five-year (2015-19) average inventory levels for this same time of year. Gulf Coast inventories decreased by 1.3 million barrels, East Coast inventories decreased by 0.3 million barrels, and Rocky Mountain/West Coast inventories decrease by 0.2 million barrels. Midwest inventories increased by 0.1 million barrels. Propylene non-fuel-use inventories represented 8.5% of total propane/propylene inventories.
Residential heating fuel prices decrease
As of March 23, 2020, residential heating oil prices averaged $2.45 per gallon, almost 15 cents per gallon below last week’s price and nearly 77 cents per gallon lower than last year’s price at this time. Wholesale heating oil prices averaged more than $1.11 per gallon, almost 14 cents per gallon below last week’s price and 98 cents per gallon lower than a year ago.
Residential propane prices averaged more than $1.91 per gallon, nearly 2 cents per gallon below last week’s price and almost 49 cents per gallon below last year’s price. Wholesale propane prices averaged more than $0.42 per gallon, more than 7 cents per gallon lower than last week’s price and almost 36 cents per gallon below last year’s price.