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Last Updated: October 24, 2017
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Renewable Energy
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Variability surrounding future battery technology, government policies, consumer preferences, and other developments related to personal transportation markets casts a great deal of uncertainty on the long-term effects that battery electric and plug-in hybrid vehicles may have on worldwide energy consumption. This article discusses market trends related to these plug-in electric vehicles (PEVs) and compares results from standalone runs of EIA’s new International Transportation Energy Demand Determinates model [1] to those presented in the International Energy Outlook 2017 (IEO2017). These results help quantify some of the uncertainty associated with the long-term effects that PEVs may have on energy markets.


Even though the future penetration of PEVs into personal automobile markets may be heavily influenced by changes in technology and government policies, the side cases presented in this article are based on differences in consumer tastes and preferences. This approach is the easiest way to examine the effects that different penetration rates have on energy consumption because the methodology does not require us to develop a detailed set of new policies across countries or new assumptions related to technological progress.


The side cases consist of a Low and a High PEV Penetration case. In the Low PEV Penetration case, consumer preferences are set to result in an almost 50% smaller stock of plug-in electric vehicles in 2040 than in the Reference case. In the High PEV Penetration case, preferences are set to create nearly twice as large a stock of plug-in electric vehicles at the end of the projection period than at the end of the Reference case projection period.


The side cases show that different rates of PEV penetration have measurable effects on liquid fuel consumption in the transportation sector. In the Low PEV Penetration case, liquid fuel consumption is almost 2 quadrillion British thermal units (Btu) higher than the 225 quadrillion Btu level in the Reference case in 2040. In the High PEV Penetration case, consumption of these fuels is 2.75 quadrillion Btu lower than in the Reference case at the end of the projection period.


Even though the range of results might be smaller than initially expected, there are two important factors to understand. First, the use of PEVs in transportation starts from a small base. Although cumulative sales of PEVs worldwide reached 1.2 million in 2015, they still accounted for less than 1% of the total number of automobiles currently in use. Second, the side cases only address changes in adoption of PEVs in the light-duty vehicle sector and do not address PEVs in the two-and-three wheeler sector or in buses. The focus is on the light-duty vehicle sector because globally, light-duty vehicles consume more energy than any other mode of transportation, and most of the PEV policies are for light-duty vehicles. However, in all three cases, light-duty vehicles account for about 40% of total liquid fuel consumption in the transportation sector over the entire projection period.


In addition, the side cases do not consider variation in developments that are more closely tied to the growing digital economy in many countries, including ridesharing, carpool facilitation, and autonomous vehicles. Possible developments in these other transportation-related areas also cast a great deal of uncertainty on future transportation energy demand and could amplify or dampen the effects that PEVs have on energy consumption over the projection horizon.


DISCUSSION


Decreases in battery cell and pack costs and government incentives in many countries have been factors as helping PEVs reach their current level of market penetration. However, many uncertainties related to future government policies and other market-related developments remain.


Policy trends


Governments in many countries—including China, France, Germany, India, Italy, Japan, Norway, South Korea, Spain, Sweden, the United Kingdom, and the United States—have enacted policies encouraging PEV sales. These policies range from direct monetary incentives to time-saving measures. The monetary incentives include rebates at the time of purchase, tax exemptions, toll waivers, free parking, and exemptions from ferry fees. The time-saving measures include granting PEVs access to high-occupancy vehicle or bus lanes. The desire to reduce on-road vehicle emissions, including greenhouse gases and other pollutants, is often cited as the primary motivation for these incentives.


The Norwegian government offers the largest monetary incentives for PEVs. These incentives reduce the purchase price and the operational costs associated with PEV ownership and include an exemption from an acquisition tax ($11,600 savings) for both battery electric vehicles (BEVs) and plug-in hybrid electric vehicles (PHEVs). They also include an exemption from the countrywide 25% value-added tax for BEVs. Collectively, these incentives make the price of a luxury battery electric vehicle roughly equivalent to that of a non-luxury petroleum-fueled vehicle in that country. In addition to these cost savings, PEVs in Norway also receive waivers to avoid paying toll road and ferry fees.


In 2016, slightly more than 19% of new vehicles sales in Norway were plug-in electric vehicles (Figure IF-1). Because the country offered greater incentives for PHEVs in 2016 than in previous years, sales of PHEVs grew faster than sales of BEVs during the year. As a result, PHEVs accounted for 41%[2] of the total PEV purchases by Norwegian consumers.


Governments in several countries have started to remove or phase out existing policies that encourage the purchase of PEVs. In countries where this has happened, immediate and significant reductions in PEVs sales have been seen—for example, when Denmark’s government removed its PEV subsidies in 2016, the country saw a 71% decrease in BEV sales and a 49% decrease in PHEV sales compared with sales in the previous year.[3] Moving forward, the hope of many governments is that manufacturing costs will come down quickly enough to make PEVs more competitive in automobile markets, leading to increased sales.

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More recently, governments in several countries have proposed policies that would discourage or prohibit the use or sale of non-electric vehicles in future years. The Norwegian government hopes to end the sale of petroleum-fueled vehicles by 2025. India’s government announced that by 2030 only electric vehicles will be sold in India. The governments of France and the United Kingdom have stated that they will ban the sale of internal combustion engine vehicles by 2040.


Market developments


A number of market-related factors can affect the demand for PEVs, but the factors most commonly focused on are differences in the purchase prices and operational costs between plug-in and a gasoline-fueled vehicles. Although such measures are informative, other less tangible or difficult-to-measure costs are also important factors that affect adoption rates. These less tangible costs relate to whether the vehicles serve as perfect substitutes or not, given current technology and supporting infrastructure. In addition, income levels and a more general notion of consumer tastes and preferences are likely to influence the demand for PEVs as well.


To compare the relative costs associated with the two different types of vehicles, measures of vehicle price parity are commonly used. The idea behind these measures is that once the price of PEVs begins to approach the price of gasoline-fueled vehicles, consumers will become more willing to purchase PEVs rather than gasoline-fueled vehicles because it makes sense to do so financially.


Two methods are typically used to create measures to examine vehicle price parity. The first is based on total cost of ownership (TCO). Under this concept, parity is achieved when ownership costs are the same for two types of vehicle measured over their service lives. Factors such as fuel cost per mile, maintenance, and length of ownership factor prominently into these types of measures. Because the cost-per-mile and maintenance costs are typically lower for PEVs, TCO parity is usually achieved even though electric vehicles have a higher purchase price than gasoline vehicles.


The second measure of vehicle price parity is based on the purchase price of a comparable vehicle. Under this concept, price parity is reached when the upfront cost in purchasing a PEV without discounts or incentives is the same as that associated with an equivalent gasoline-fueled vehicle. To reach price parity with gasoline-fueled vehicles, battery packs for plug-in electric vehicles will likely need to decrease to about $100/kilowatt hour (kWh).


Customers in the more developed countries are more likely to purchase electric vehicles once TCO parity is achieved. This outcome results because consumers in less-developed countries who are purchasing a new vehicle for the first time are likely to face a greater financial burden in spending the additional money upfront to purchase a PEV.


The main factor that may contribute to future vehicle price parity is increasing economies of scale for vehicle powertrain components. As more batteries are produced, lower per-unit costs are realized because fixed overhead and development costs are spread across a greater number of units. However, a large increase in battery demand may lead to bottlenecks in the supply chain for essential components, keeping PEV prices high, at least in the near term.


The most expensive component affecting the overall costs of PEV vehicles is the battery cell. The cost of lithium-ion cells, the most commonly used PEV battery, has decreased from about $1,000 per kWh of storage in 2010 to between $130/kWh – $200/kWh in 2016, depending on the manufacturer. However, the cost of the battery pack for most manufactures is still more than $200/kWh. Further reductions in cost will need to be realized to fully achieve vehicle price parity with gasoline vehicles.


A potential bottleneck in the supply chain could be caused by the need for lithium or cobalt to produce PEV batteries. Over the past few years, the cost of lithium has quadrupled as the demand for lithium has grown more quickly than supply. In the long run, however, lithium production is likely to be sufficient to support robust growth in the production of PEVs.


The price of cobalt has also doubled in the past couple years. However, long-run prospects for using this material in PEV batteries are not as strong as those for lithium. Cobalt is a scarcer resource with lower proven reserves. In addition, many of the known reserves exist in less politically stable regions of the world. The degree to which such supply chain bottlenecks could inhibit or delay the ability of electric vehicles to achieve price parity is uncertain.


Infrastructure to support the growth of PEV use needs to be further developed in many countries. For example, less than 80% of the population in India had access to electricity in 2014.[4] In addition, many of those with access to electricity, often do not have a reliable source or enough electricity to power more than few basic household appliances. To circumvent this issue and keep costs down, India plans to sell plug-in electric vehicles and lease the batteries to consumers. When the battery is empty, the consumer can swap out the battery for a fully charged battery at a station. Thus, consumers will not need individual access to a reliable source for electricity, as long as they have access to battery replacement stations.


In more-developed countries, access to charging stations still places limits on PEV adoption. With the current technology, it takes hours to fully charge an electric battery without using a high-speed charger. Even with such a charger, it still takes longer to charge a battery than to fill a tank with gasoline. Because of limited availability of high-speed chargers, consumers need to be able to charge their vehicles at their residences or places of work. However, many consumers do not have access to electrical outlets where they park their cars. As a result, many countries will need to install charging stations near residences.


Another important factor affecting PEV adoption is personal tastes and preferences. In China, the government offers the second-highest monetary incentives to promote the purchase of PEVs, but consumers have been more frequently opting for more-expensive gasoline-powered sport-utility vehicles (SUVs). In May 2017, SUV sales in China experienced 17% year-on-year growth, reaching 3.78 million vehicles sold year to date.[5] However, new energy vehicles, which include battery electric, plug-in hybrid electric, and fuel cell cars, experienced 7.8% year-on-year growth, reaching 136,000 vehicles sold year to date.


SIDE CASES


The side cases focus on how different levels of global PEV sales affect transportation energy consumption in both Organization of Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) and non-OECD countries. To develop these cases, assumptions about consumer tastes and preferences were varied.


In the Low PEV Penetration case, consumers are less willing to pay the additional upfront cost for a PEV, resulting in fewer purchases than in the Reference case. This outcome results in less charging infrastructure being built and fewer makes and models of PEVs being developed. By 2040, the availability of fewer charging stations and fewer vehicle makes and models results in PEVs appearing even less attractive to consumers than in the Reference case.


In the High PEV Penetration case, consumers are more willing to pay the additional upfront cost for a PEV, resulting in more purchases than in the Reference case. This outcome results in more charging infrastructure being built and greater numbers of PEVs makes and models being developed for consumers. By 2040, the availability of more charging stations and more vehicle makes and models results in PEVs appearing even more attractive to consumers than in the Reference case.


In the Reference case, plug-in electric vehicles account for approximately 14% of the light-duty vehicle stock in 2040 (Figure IF-2). In the Low PEV Penetration case, plug-in electric vehicles account for 8% of the light-duty vehicle stock in that same year. In the High PEV Penetration case, plug-in electric vehicles account for 26% of the light-duty vehicle stock. In all three cases PEV sales as a percent of total new LDV sales increase quicker than PEV stocks as a percent of total stocks due to the large non-PEV stocks in many countries and LDV stock turnover rates.

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In all three cases, plug-in electric vehicles in OECD countries make up a larger share of the light-duty vehicle stock than in non-OECD countries for at least three reasons (Figure IF-3):

  • More OECD countries have current policies supporting the adoption of PEVs. Even policies supporting PEV adoption in the near term have an effect on the stock of plug-in electric vehicles in 2040 because of the 25-year service life associated with these vehicles.
  • Higher incomes in OECD countries make it easier for consumers to purchase PEVs before plug-in electric vehicle price parity is achieved.
  • OECD countries have better electric grid reliability, making it less risky for consumers to own electric vehicles.

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In the Reference case, most of global light-duty vehicle energy consumption comes from a petroleum-based fuel (motor gasoline, diesel, or liquefied petroleum gas (LPG)) throughout the projection period (Figure IF-4). However, the share of petroleum-based fuel for light-duty vehicle use decreases over time. In particular, petroleum-based fuels made up 98% of light-duty vehicle energy consumption in 2015. By 2040, petroleum-based fuels make up 90% of light-duty vehicle energy consumption. Electricity is the fastest growing energy source used to power these vehicles.


Total light-duty vehicle energy consumption increases from 48 quadrillion Btu in 2015 to 56 quadrillion Btu in the Reference case (Figure IF-4). OECD countries’ light-duty vehicle energy consumption decreases from 32 quadrillion Btu in 2015 to 25 quadrillion Btu in 2040. For these countries collectively, decreases in fuel consumption resulting from increased fuel economy standards more than offset increases resulting from increased light-duty vehicle travel. During the same period, non-OECD countries increase their light-duty vehicle energy consumption from 16 quadrillion Btu in 2015 to 31 quadrillion Btu in 2040. As a result, OECD countries’ decrease in light-duty vehicle energy consumption between 2015 and 2040 is more than offset by the increase in non-OECD light-duty vehicle energy consumption.

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In the Low and High PEV Penetration cases, the different PEV penetration rates result in different levels of petroleum-based fuel, electricity, and natural gas consumption in the light-duty vehicle sector compared with the Reference case (Figure IF-5). In the Low PEV Penetration case, light-duty vehicles consume almost 2 quadrillion Btu more petroleum-based fuel in 2040 compared with the Reference case. In the High PEV Penetration case, light-duty vehicles consume almost 2.75 quadrillion Btu less petroleum-based fuel compared with the Reference case.


The differences in petroleum consumption in the two side cases do not result in a one-to-one change in energy consumption with natural gas and electricity because of the differences in efficiency between the vehicles. The battery portion of plug-in electric vehicles is more efficient than petroleum-fueled vehicles, which results in the use of fewer Btus of electricity to replace a given amount of Btus of petroleum-based fuel.

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Differences in worldwide PEV penetration are projected to have measurable effects on total liquids consumption. In the Reference case, total worldwide liquids consumption reaches 225 quadrillion Btu in 2040 (Figure IF-6). Transportation liquids consumption as a percent of total liquids consumption remains relatively flat throughout the projection period at around 55%. Most of the change in total liquid fuel consumption comes from the 38 quadrillion Btu increase in non-OECD countries between 2015 and 2040.

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In the Low PEV Penetration case, worldwide liquids consumption is almost 2 quadrillion Btu higher than in the Reference case, representing an additional 1%point increase in total liquids consumption in 2040 (Figure IF-7). The difference in total liquids consumption is larger for OECD countries than for non-OECD countries because OECD countries have more PEVs on-road in the Reference case. Total liquids consumption in OECD countries is almost 2% higher in the Low PEV Penetration case than in the Reference case.

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In the High PEV Penetration case, worldwide liquids consumption is 2.75 quadrillion Btu lower than in the Reference case in 2040 (Figure IF-8). This difference in liquids consumption represents a 1% reduction in total liquids consumption in the High PEV Penetration case compared with the Reference case. Both OECD and non-OECD countries increase PEV adoption throughout the projection period, resulting in almost equal decreases in total liquids consumption in OECD and non-OECD countries.

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Is Document Verification effective in managing identity theft?

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:

  • Face Verification

The use of artificial intelligence systems to detect facial structure and features for verification purposes.

  • Document Verification

The use of artificial intelligence systems to detect the authenticity of various documents to prevent fraud.

  • Address Verification

The use of artificial intelligence technology to verify addresses from documents to minimize the threat of fraudsters.

  • 2-Factor Authentication

The use of multi-step verification to enhance the protection of your accounts by adding another security layer, usually involving your mobile phone.

  • Consent Verification

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

  • Passports

  • Driving Licenses

  • Credit/Debit 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. 



April, 02 2020
Your Weekly Update: 23 - 27 March 2020

Market Watch   

Headline crude prices for the week beginning 23 March 2020 – Brent: US$27/b; WTI: US$23/b

  • After falling to an 18-year low last week, crude oil prices have managed to recover from their lowest level since 2003… but just barely
  • A huge swathe of economic stimulus packages announced by governments worldwide, including a US$2 trillion bipartisan injection in the US economy, soothed financial markets, which in turn supported commodity prices
  • More stimulus, however, may be needed as confirmed Covid-19 cases in Italy and the USA overtake China’s total, with the pandemic increasingly containing in the latter but accelerating at a dangerous pace in Europe and North America
  • While the Covid-19 saga plays out, former allies Saudi Arabia and Russia remain at odds over crude oil prices; Russian President Vladimir Putin has accused Saudi Arabia of ‘oil price blackmail’, vowing not to cave in
  • However, various reports from Russia suggest the low crude prices are beginning to bite economically, with Russia still ‘open to cooperation’ but committed to a war of attrition
  • With Saudi Arabia unlikely to want to cave either, the USA is exercising its muscle in an attempt to intervene in the price war; the Department of Energy will be purchasing some 77 million barrels of (US) crude to bring its Strategic Petroleum Reserve to maximum capacity
  • Meanwhile, the US is reportedly also open to a joint US-Saudi Arabia alliance in a bid to stabilise prices, a scenario that was previously unthinkable but may be necessary if the US shale patch is to be saved; such an alliance, however, is likely to invite reprisals from Russia
  • The record low crude oil prices has led some traders to build up positions, hiring tankers and supertankers to store crude and fuel products at sea while betting that prices will eventually rise; the world’s largest oil trader Glencore has chartered one of the world’s two Ultra Large Crude Carriers for six months to serve as floating storage, while other traders are beginning to store jet fuel
  • As expected, the low prices have begun to bite on the US active rig count, which fell by a net 20 to 772 sites; the situation is worse in Canada, where the industry lost 77 sites over the week to fall to 98 active sites
  • While prices have managed to recover from their lows, the outlook for crude remains weak as long as the oil price war persists and the Covid-19 pandemic shows no sign of containment; expect prices to remain rangebound at US$28-30/b range for Brent and US$23-25 for WTI

Headlines of the week

Upstream

  • CNOOC has announced a new ‘large-sized’ oil discovery in the Bohai Bay, with the Kenli 6-1 structure being the first major discovery in the Laibei Lower Uplift
  • Husky has halted work on the West White Rose project offshore Newfoundland and Labrador in Canada until the Covid-19 pandemic blows over
  • MOL and its partners in the PL820S in the Norwegian North Sea have struck oil, with the Evra and Iving exploratory wells fielding oil (and gas) in multiple formations in the Balder and Ringhorne fields; the discoveries are expected to be developed as a tie-back to nearby existing installations
  • Malaysia is preparing for its 2020 licensing round – with bids due in late May – offering stakes in eight fields, which include discovered assets with more than 12 million boe of proven undeveloped resources

Midstream/Downstream

  • Brazil’s Petrobras has extended the deadline to submit binding offers for eight of its refineries in Brazil, hampered by the volatility in global oil prices
  • Shell has paused construction of its massive ethane cracker in Beaver Country, Pennsylvania to help contain the rapid spread of Covid-19 in the USA
  • A second fire in less than a year has broken out at the Petronas-Saudi Aramco 300 kb/d PRefChem refinery in Malaysia, with output likely to be further curbed by a strict lockdown on private operations instituted by the government
  • Work on upgrading the Abadan oil refinery in Iran has been halted until at least mid-April, until the Covid-19 situation in the country is under control
  • Gazprom has started up a new CDU at its Moscow refinery, adding some 140 kb/d of processing capacity to the key processing site

Natural Gas/LNG

  • After almost two decades of attempted development, the Abadi LNG project in Indonesia may be in jeopardy as Japan’s Inpex is ‘reviewing investment plans’ in light of the Covid-19 virus; a delay is very likely, although Inpex has recently secured key land permits for the project’s planned onshore LNG plant
  • Australia is planning legislation to lift the country’s current moratorium on onshore gas exploration and production in 2021, following a cautious green-light by the Victorian Gas Program task force
  • US regulators have given Cameron LNG an additional four years to complete a two-train expansion at its LNG export project in Louisiana
  • Sempra expects to delay FID on its Port Arthur LNG export project, but remains on course to sanction its Energia Costa Azul project by Q2 2020
  • The Woodfibre LNG project in Canada’s British Columbia has delayed construction until 2021, as a key contractor filed for bankruptcy
  • Total has announced a new gas/condensate discovery in the UK North Sea – with the Isabella 30/12d-11 well in license P1820 yielding ‘encouraging flows’
  • INOX India and an Indian subsidiary of Shell have signed an MoU to partner and develop LNG demand and distribution, to be sourced from Shell Energy India’s 5 million tpa LNG receiving terminal in Hazira, Gujarat
March, 27 2020
This Week in Petroleum: Oil market volatility is at an all-time high

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.

Figure 1. West Texas Intermediate crude oil futures prices

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.

Figure 2. Crude oil futures price spreads and inventories

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).

Figure 3. Frequency of West Texas Intermediate (WTI) futures daily price percentage changes (January 1999 - March 2020)

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.

Figure 4. Changes in implied and historical volatility measures

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).

Figure 5. Rolling 60-day correlation between daily price changes in West Texas Intermediate (WTI) crude oil prices and other indicators

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.

March, 27 2020