Total liquid fuels inventories return to five-year average levels in the United States and the OECD
The extended period of oversupply in global petroleum markets that began before the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) November 2016 agreement to cut production has ended, and the large buildup of global inventories during that period has now been drawn down. As OPEC plans to reconvene on June 22, markets now appear more in balance, but uncertainty remains going forward.
The November 2016 OPEC supply agreement took effect in January 2017, whereby OPEC member countries agreed to reduce crude oil production by 1.2 million barrels per day (b/d) compared with October 2016 levels and to limit total OPEC production to 32.5 million b/d. In addition, Russia agreed to reduce its crude oil production. OPEC extended the agreement in November 2017, with the production cuts remaining in place until the end of 2018.
Since January 2017, one of the primary indicators of a tightening world oil market has been a decline in crude oil and other liquids inventories. After sustained increases in quarterly global liquid inventories from mid-2014 through most of 2016, inventories declined throughout 2017 and into the first quarter of 2018 (Figure 1).
Data for global petroleum inventories are not collected directly. Instead, increases or decreases in global inventories are implied based on the difference between world production and world consumption estimates. However, inventory data for the United States and for countries within the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) are available and can indicate what is happening globally.
From January 2017 to April 2018, U.S. crude oil and other liquids inventories decreased by 162 million barrels while OECD inventories decreased by 234 million barrels. Over this same period, U.S. and OECD crude oil and other liquids inventories moved from 229 million barrels and 334 million barrels, respectively, higher than their five-year averages to 16 million barrels and 2 million barrels lower (Figure 2).
Between the first quarter of 2017 and the first quarter of 2018, estimated total world petroleum and other liquids production rose 1.6 million b/d. OECD petroleum and other liquids production rose 1.3 million b/d, and most of this growth came from increased crude oil production in the United States, which increased by 1.2 million b/d, from 9.0 million b/d to 10.2 million b/d. Total OPEC petroleum (crude and other liquids) production increased by 0.4 million b/d over this period. Total OPEC crude oil production remained lower than the 32.5 million b/d agreement level, increasing 0.27 million b/d to 32.4 million b/d.
Total world petroleum and other liquids consumption, on the other hand, increased by an estimated 1.9 million b/d between the first quarters of 2017 and 2018, exceeding the growth in production and resulting in inventory declines. This consumption growth occurred primarily in the United States (0.6 million b/d), China (0.5 million b/d), and other Non-OECD Asia (0.6 million b/d) (Figure 3).
The days of supply measure (current inventory level divided by next month’s estimated consumption) provides additional insight into market balances. Between January 2017 and April 2017, U.S. and OECD crude oil days of supply fell by 11.5 and 4.5 days, respectively, to 59.2 and 60.6 days. U.S. crude oil and other liquids days of supply fell from 12 days higher than the five-year average to 3.6 days lower. OECD crude oil and other liquids days of supply dropped from 7.4 days higher than the five-year average to 1.6 days lower (Figure 4).
EIA forecasts that the tightening trend in global petroleum markets will reverse. In the May 2018 Short-Term Energy Outlook, EIA forecasts that both U.S. and OECD petroleum and other liquids inventories will return to surpluses compared with their five-year averages, although on a smaller scale compared with the period between 2015 and 2016. U.S. and OECD days of supply are forecast to remain in a band that is close to the five-year average level through 2019. However, additional uncertainty about future global oil market balances remains in light of, among other factors, the U.S. withdrawal from the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) and the continued instability in Venezuela.
U.S. average diesel price increases
The U.S. average regular gasoline retail price for May 14, 2018 was $2.87 per gallon. Please note that on May 14, 2018, EIA implemented new statistical methodologies for conducting the Motor Gasoline Price Survey. Because of these changes, the published price estimates this week are not directly comparable with those published for May 7, 2018, which were based on EIA’s previous sample.
The U.S. average diesel fuel price increased nearly 7 cents to $3.24 per gallon on May 14, 2018, nearly 70 cents higher than a year ago. Midwest prices rose over eight cents to almost $3.18 per gallon, West Coast and Rocky Mountain prices each rose nearly seven cents to $3.73 per gallon and $3.32 per gallon, respectively, and East Coast and Gulf Coast prices each rose nearly six cents to $3.24 per gallon and $3.01 per gallon, respectively.
Propane/propylene inventories rise
U.S. propane/propylene stocks increased by 1.7 million barrels last week to 40.4 million barrels as of May 11, 2018, 12.3 million barrels (23.4%) lower than the five-year average inventory level for this same time of year. Midwest, East Coast, and Gulf Coast inventories increased by 0.8 million barrels, 0.6 million barrels, and 0.4 million barrels, respectively, while Rocky Mountain/West Coast inventories decreased by 0.1 million barrels. Propylene non-fuel-use inventories represented 7.2% of total propane/propylene inventories.
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Headline crude prices for the week beginning 15 October 2018 – Brent: US$81/b; WTI: US$71/b
Headlines of the week
Less than two weeks ago, the VLCC Navarin arrived at Tanjung Pengerang, at the southern end of Peninsular Malaysia. It was carrying two million barrels of crude oil, split equally between Saudi Arab Medium and Iraqi Basra Light grades.
The RAPID refinery in Johor. An equal joint partnership between Malaysia’s Petronas and Saudi Aramco whose 300 kb/d mega refinery is nearing completion. Once questioned for its economic viability, RAPID is now scheduled to start up in early 2019, entering a market that is still booming and in demand of the higher quality, Euro IV and Euro V level fuels RAPID will produce.
Beyond fuel products, RAPID will also have massive petrochemical capacity. Meant to come on online at a later date, RAPID will have a collective capacity of some 7.7 million tons per annum of differentiated and specialty chemicals, including 3 mtpa of propylene. To be completed in stages, Petronas nonetheless projects that it will add some 3.3 million tons of petrochemicals to the Asia market by the end of next year. That’s blockbuster numbers, and it will elevate Petronas’ stature in downstream, bringing more international appeal to a refining network previously focused mainly on Malaysia. For its partner Saudi Aramco, RAPID is part of a multi-pronged strategy of investing mega refineries in key parts of the world, to diversify its business and ensure demand for its crude flows as it edges towards an IPO.
RAPID won’t be alone. Vietnam’s second refinery – the 200 kb/d Nghi Son – has finally started up this year after multiple delays. And in the same timeframe as RAPID, the Zhejiang refinery by Rongsheng Petro Chemical and the Dalian refinery by Hengli Petrochemical in China are both due to start up. At 400 kb/d each, that could add 1.1 mmb/d of new refining capacity in Asia within 1H19. And there’s more coming. Hengli’s Pulau Muara Besar project in Brunei is also aiming for a 2019 start, potentially adding another 175 kb/d of capacity. And just like RAPID, each of these new or recent projects has substantial petrochemical capacity planned.
That’s okay for now, since demand remains strong. But the danger is that this could all unravel. With American sanctions on Iran due to kick in November, even existing refineries are fleeing from contributing to Tehran in favour of other crude grades. The new refineries will be entering a tight market that could become even tighter. RAPID can rely on Saudi Arabia and Nghi Son can depend on Kuwait, both the Chinese projects are having to scramble to find alternate supplies for their designed diet of heavy sour crude. This race to find supplies has already sent Brent prices to four-year highs, and most in the industry are already predicting that crude oil prices will rise to US$100/b by the year’s end. At prices like this, demand destruction begins and the current massive growth – fuelled by cheap oil prices – could come to an end. The market can rapidly change again, and by the end of this decade, Asia could be swirling with far more oil products that it can handle.
Upcoming and recent Asia refineries:
Headline crude prices for the week beginning 8 October 2018 – Brent: US$84/b; WTI: US$74/b
Headlines of the week