The United States continues trend toward exporting more gasoline than it imports
Despite record high gasoline consumption, the United States is on pace to export more gasoline than it imports for the second year in a row. Changes in regional markets, increased demand for exports, and high refinery runs are once again leading to the United States to be a net exporter in 2017.
In 2016, the United States became a net exporter of gasoline for the first time on an annual basis with net gasoline exports of 56,000 barrels per day (b/d). Through September 2017 (the most recently available monthly data), the United States averaged net gasoline exports of 55,000 b/d. The shift toward net exports of gasoline on an annual basis has been a long-running trend.
U.S. gasoline imports and exports are highly seasonal. The United States has typically been a net importer of gasoline in spring and summer months, when domestic consumption increases, and a net exporter in winter months, when demand is lower. However, for every month between April and August 2017, the United States set either record low net imports or record high net exports (Figure 1). Almost year-round net gasoline exports is a major change for U.S. gasoline markets, which is the result of one long-term trend and two more recent trends.
Changes in trends of gasoline production and consumption in the Midwest United States, in part, have driven this trend. Historically, the U.S. Gulf Coast (Petroleum Administration for Defense District (PADD) 3) supplied refined products to other regions of the United States where demand exceeded supply, such as the Midwest (PADD 2) and the U.S. East Coast (PADD 1). While the East Coast still relies on supplies from the Gulf Coast and still remains a large net importer of gasoline—619,000 b/d in 2016, the Midwest has reduced its need to draw supplies from the Gulf Coast in recent years. Midwest refineries now are running at higher rates and increased capacity, resulting in more Midwest gasoline demand being met from in-region production. Between 2006 and 2016, Midwest receipts of gasoline from the Gulf Coast declined by 278,000 b/d to 273,000 b/d.
Because of logistical and economic constraints on sending increasing gasoline supplies from the Gulf Coast to other regions, the volumes of gasoline no longer demanded by the Midwest have become available for export. With the Rocky Mountain (PADD 4) and U.S. West Coast (PADD 5) relying largely on in-region or domestic supplies, the balance of U.S. net gasoline imports or exports is between East Coast imports and Gulf Coast exports. Between 2013 and 2016, Gulf Coast gasoline exports increased by 236,000 b/d (54%), while East Coast imports increased by 41,000 b/d (7%), resulting in a shift for the United States as a whole.
Available Gulf Coast gasoline supplies come at a time when both domestic and nearby fuel markets are experiencing increasing demand for multiple petroleum products, including gasoline. A majority of the growth in U.S. gasoline exports has been to markets in Mexico and Central and South America. In the first half of 2017, Mexico accounted for 53% of the 755,000 b/d of U.S. total motor gasoline exports. Low utilization of Mexican refineries and the ongoing market reforms of Mexico’s retail fuel distribution have resulted in continued increased demand for gasoline supplies from the U.S. Gulf Coast.
At the same time, U.S. domestic gasoline consumption has been increasing to record levels. U.S. gasoline consumption, as measured by product supplied, set a new monthly record high of 9.8 million b/d in August 2017. To meet the combined record domestic gasoline demand and the increased export demand for multiple petroleum products—including gasoline—U.S. refineries have been running at increasingly higher rates. U.S. gross refinery inputs set a record high of 17.8 million b/d for the week ending August 25 and have been higher than the five-year range for a majority of 2017 (Figure 3).
If the trends of increasing demand from export markets and U.S. refineries producing near record levels of gasoline continues, the United States is likely to become a monthly net exporter of gasoline more consistently.
U.S. average regular gasoline prices fall, diesel prices increase
The U.S. average regular gasoline retail price fell nearly 4 cents from the previous week to $2.53 per gallon on November 27, up 38 cents from the same time last year. The Midwest price fell eight cents to $2.42 per gallon, the Gulf Coast price fell over two cents to $2.26 per gallon, the East Coast and West Coast prices each fell nearly two cents to $2.51 per gallon and $3.04 per gallon, respectively, and the Rocky Mountain price fell less than one cent, remaining at $2.54 per gallon.
The U.S. average diesel fuel price increased over 1 cent to $2.93 per gallon on November 27, 51 cents higher than a year ago. The Rocky Mountain and Gulf Coast prices each increased over two cents to $3.03 per gallon and $2.71 per gallon, respectively, the East Coast and Midwest prices each increased one cent to $2.91 per gallon and $2.88 per gallon, respectively, and the West Coast price increased less than one cent, remaining at $3.38 per gallon.
Propane inventories decline
U.S. propane stocks decreased by 0.6 million barrels last week to 73.2 million barrels as of November 24, 2017, 10.4 million barrels (12.5%) lower than the five-year average inventory level for this same time of year. Gulf Coast, Midwest, and Rocky Mountain/West Coast inventories decreased by 0.5 million barrels, 0.3 million barrels, and 0.2 million barrels, respectively, while East Coast inventories rose by 0.5 million barrels. Propylene non-fuel-use inventories represented 3.5% of total propane inventories.
Residential heating oil and propane prices continue to increase
As of November 27, 2017, residential heating oil prices averaged $2.85 per gallon, over 2 cents per gallon more than last week and almost 45 cents per gallon higher than last year’s price at this time. The average wholesale heating oil price for this week is just under $2.04 per gallon, nearly 1 cent per gallon less than last week but 45 cents per gallon higher than a year ago.
Residential propane prices averaged $2.43 per gallon, almost 2 cents per gallon more than last week and nearly 36 cents per gallon higher than a year ago. Wholesale propane prices averaged $1.12 per gallon, unchanged from last week but 48 cents per gallon higher than last year's price.
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In a few days, the bi-annual OPEC meeting will take place on November 30, leading into a wider OPEC+ meeting on December 30. This is what all the political jostling and negotiations currently taking place is leading up to, as the coalition of major oil producers under the OPEC+ banner decide on the next step of its historic and ambitious supply control plan. Designed to prop up global oil prices by managing supply, a postponement of the next phase in the supply deal is widely expected. But there are many cracks appearing beneath the headline.
A quick recap. After Saudi Arabia and Russia triggered a price war in March 2020 that led to a collapse in oil prices (with US crude prices briefly falling into negative territory due to the technical quirk), OPEC and its non-OPEC allies (known collectively as OPEC+) agreed to a massive supply quota deal that would throttle their production for 2 years. The initial figure was 10 mmb/d, until Mexico’s reticence brought that down to 9.7 mmb/d. This was due to fall to 7.7 mmb/d by July 2020, but soft demand forced a delay, while Saudi Arabia led the charge to ensure full compliance from laggards, which included Iraq, Nigeria and (unusually) the UAE. The next tranche will bring the supply control ceiling down to 5.7 mmb/d. But given that Covid-19 is still raging globally (despite promising vaccine results), this might be too much too soon. Yes, prices have recovered, but at US$40/b crude, this is still not sufficient to cover the oil-dependent budgets of many OPEC+ nations. So a delay is very likely.
But for how long? The OPEC+ Joint Technical Committee panel has suggested that the next step of the plan (which will effectively boost global supply by 2 mmb/d) be postponed by 3-6 months. This move, if adopted, will have been presaged by several public statements by OPEC+ leaders, including a pointed comment from OPEC Secretary General Mohammad Barkindo that producers must be ready to respond to ‘shifts in market fundamentals’.
On the surface, this is a necessary move. Crude prices have rallied recently – to as high as US$45/b – on positive news of Covid-19 vaccines. Treatments from Pfizer, Moderna and the Oxford University/AstraZeneca have touted 90%+ effectiveness in various forms, with countries such as the US, Germany and the UK ordering billions of doses and setting the stage for mass vaccinations beginning December. Life returning to a semblance of normality would lift demand, particularly in key products such as gasoline (as driving rates increase) and jet fuel (allowing a crippled aviation sector to return to life). Underpinning the rally is the understanding that OPEC+ will always act in the market’s favour, carefully supporting the price recovery. But there are already grouses among OPEC members that they are doing ‘too much’. Led by Saudi Arabia, the draconian dictates of meeting full compliance to previous quotas have ruffled feathers, although most members have reluctantly attempt to abide by them. But there is a wider existential issue that OPEC+ is merely allowing its rivals to resuscitate and leapfrog them once again; the US active oil rig count by Baker Hughes has reversed a chronic decline trend, as WTI prices are at levels above breakeven for US shale.
Complaints from Iran, Iraq and Nigeria are to be expected, as is from Libya as it seeks continued exemption from quotas due to the legacy of civil war even though it has recently returned to almost full production following a truce. But grievance is also coming from an unexpected quarter: the UAE. A major supporter in the Saudi Arabia faction of OPEC, reports suggest that the UAE (led by the largest emirate, Abu Dhabi) are privately questioning the benefit of remaining in OPEC. Beset by shrivelling oil revenue, the Emiratis have been grumbling about the fairness of their allocated quota as they seek to rebuild their trade-dependent economy. There has been suggestion that the Emiratis could even leave OPEC if decisions led to a net negative outcome for them. Unlike the Qatar exit, this will not just be a blow to OPEC as a whole, questioning its market relevance but to Saudi Arabia’s lead position, as it loses one of its main allies, reducing its negotiation power. And if the UAE leaves, Kuwait could follow, which would leave the Saudis even more isolated.
This could be a tactic to increase the volume of the UAE’s voice in OPEC+, which has been dominated by Saudi Arabia and Russia. But it could also be a genuine policy shift. Either way, it throws even more conundrums onto a delicate situation that could undermine an already fragile market. Despite the positive market news led by Covid-19 vaccines and demand recovery in Asia, American crude oil inventories in Cushing are now approaching similar high levels last seen in April (just before the WTI crash) while OPEC itself has lowered its global demand forecast for 2020 by 300,000 b/d. That’s dangerous territory to be treading in, especially if members of the OPEC+ club are threatening to exit and undermine the pack. A postponement of the plan seems inevitable on December 1 at this point, but it is what lies beyond the immediate horizon that is the true threat to OPEC+.
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In the U.S. Energy Information Administration’s (EIA) November Short-Term Energy Outlook (STEO), EIA forecasts that U.S. crude oil production will remain near its current level through the end of 2021.
A record 12.9 million barrels per day (b/d) of crude oil was produced in the United States in November 2019 and was at 12.7 million b/d in March 2020, when the President declared a national emergency concerning the COVID-19 outbreak. Crude oil production then fell to 10.0 million b/d in May 2020, the lowest level since January 2018.
By August, the latest monthly data available in EIA’s series, production of crude oil had risen to 10.6 million b/d in the United States, and the U.S. benchmark price of West Texas Intermediate (WTI) crude oil had increased from a monthly average of $17 per barrel (b) in April to $42/b in August. EIA forecasts that the WTI price will average $43/b in the first half of 2021, up from our forecast of $40/b during the second half of 2020.
The U.S. crude oil production forecast reflects EIA’s expectations that annual global petroleum demand will not recover to pre-pandemic levels (101.5 million b/d in 2019) through at least 2021. EIA forecasts that global consumption of petroleum will average 92.9 million b/d in 2020 and 98.8 million b/d in 2021.
The gradual recovery in global demand for petroleum contributes to EIA’s forecast of higher crude oil prices in 2021. EIA expects that the Brent crude oil price will increase from its 2020 average of $41/b to $47/b in 2021.
EIA’s crude oil price forecast depends on many factors, especially changes in global production of crude oil. As of early November, members of the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) and partner countries (OPEC+) were considering plans to keep production at current levels, which could result in higher crude oil prices. OPEC+ had previously planned to ease production cuts in January 2021.
Other factors could result in lower-than-forecast prices, especially a slower recovery in global petroleum demand. As COVID-19 cases continue to increase, some parts of the United States are adding restrictions such as curfews and limitations on gatherings and some European countries are re-instituting lockdown measures.
EIA recently published a more detailed discussion of U.S. crude oil production in This Week in Petroleum.
The U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA) forecasts that members of the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) will earn about $323 billion in net oil export revenues in 2020. If realized, this forecast revenue would be the lowest in 18 years. Lower crude oil prices and lower export volumes drive this expected decrease in export revenues.
Crude oil prices have fallen as a result of lower global demand for petroleum products because of responses to COVID-19. Export volumes have also decreased under OPEC agreements limiting crude oil output that were made in response to low crude oil prices and record-high production disruptions in Libya, Iran, and to a lesser extent, Venezuela.
OPEC earned an estimated $595 billion in net oil export revenues in 2019, less than half of the estimated record high of $1.2 trillion, which was earned in 2012. Continued declines in revenue in 2020 could be detrimental to member countries’ fiscal budgets, which rely heavily on revenues from oil sales to import goods, fund social programs, and support public services. EIA expects a decline in net oil export revenue for OPEC in 2020 because of continued voluntary curtailments and low crude oil prices.
The benchmark Brent crude oil spot price fell from an annual average of $71 per barrel (b) in 2018 to $64/b in 2019. EIA expects Brent to average $41/b in 2020, based on forecasts in EIA’s October 2020 Short-Term Energy Outlook (STEO). OPEC petroleum production averaged 36.6 million barrels per day (b/d) in 2018 and fell to 34.5 million b/d in 2019; EIA expects OPEC production to decline a further 3.9 million b/d to average 30.7 million b/d in 2020.
EIA based its OPEC revenues estimate on forecast petroleum liquids production—including crude oil, condensate, and natural gas plant liquids—and forecast values of OPEC petroleum consumption and crude oil prices.
EIA recently published a more detailed discussion of OPEC revenue in This Week in Petroleum.