Last Updated: September 11, 2017
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A fortnight after Hurricane Harvey, the refineries in Texas have been limping back to normalcy, though three-quarters of the peak capacity outage of just over 4 million b/d is still to be recovered.The ramp-up looks slower from here, as the plants still offline assess and repair the damage from rains and floods. In the meantime, US product exports, critically diesel, remain crimped and the country sucks in gasoline from overseas to plug the lingering shortfall at home. Brazil, Mexico and Europe are the top three destinations for US diesel exports; they may need to find alternate sources of the distillate for the next few weeks. Diesel cracks, the product's margin over crude, have been holding strong in Europe and Asia. As demand for products is being gradually transmitted into the crude market, Brent has received a fresh shot in the arm. But will it last, once the product shortages ease and the underlying story of an oversupplied crude market comes to the fore?

Nearly two weeks after Hurricane Harvey slammed into Texas,the US Gulf Coast ports and terminals have mostly resumed normal operations but about 3.06 million b/d of the state’s refining capacity (16% of the US total) remains shuttered, with ripples continuing to be felt across the global markets.

The ramp-up of the remaining Texas refining capacity is expected to be far slower — spread over weeks rather than days — as compared with the 1 million b/d that was relatively easier to bring back and became progressively operational over the past fortnight.

This means the easing of tightness in refined products supply,particularly diesel and gasoline, could be a drawn-out process, propping up margins and boosting operating rates at refiners in Europe, the Middle East and Asia. With time, the combination of higher products output and the gradual resumption of full refining capacity in Texas should push margins back down.

In the meantime, reduced capacity utilisation in the US and the ramping up of refineries elsewhere is propping up Brent while keeping WTI under pressure, increasing the divergence between the two light sweet crude benchmarks.

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