The United States exported 2 million barrels per day of crude oil in 2018 to 42 different destinations
In 2018, U.S. exports of crude oil continued to increase to 2.0 million barrels per day (b/d), up 846,000 b/d (73%) from 2017 (Figure 1). The number of destinations for U.S. crude oil exports also increased from 37 to 42. Volumes by destination changed significantly between the first and second halves of 2018.
The increase in U.S. crude oil exports was the result of increasing U.S. crude oil production and infrastructure changes. U.S. crude oil production increased 1.6 million b/d from 2017 to 10.9 million b/d in 2018, with the U.S. Gulf Coast—where more than 90% of U.S. crude oil exports depart from—producing 7.1 million b/d. The increased production is mostly of light, sweet crude oils, but U.S. Gulf Coast refineries are configured mostly to process heavy, sour crude oils. This increasing production and mismatch between crude oil type and refinery configuration causes more of the increasing U.S. crude oil production to be exported.
In early 2018, modifications were made at the Louisiana Offshore Oil Port (LOOP) in the Gulf of Mexico to enable the loading of vessels for crude oil exports. LOOP is currently the only U.S. facility capable of accommodating fully loaded Very Large Crude Carriers (VLCC), vessels capable of carrying approximately 2 million barrels of crude oil. After LOOP was modified to also allow exports, the increase in cargo scale led U.S. crude oil exports to surpass 2 million b/d for 25 weeks in 2018 compared with just 1 week in 2017. In addition to LOOP, other U.S Gulf Coast export facilities in and around Houston and Corpus Christi, Texas, have been investing in increasing the scale of U.S. crude oil export cargos.
In 2018, Asia was the largest regional destination for U.S. crude oil exports, followed by Europe, and, as in previous years, Canada was the largest single destination for U.S. crude oil exports. Canada received 378,000 b/d of U.S. crude oil exports, representing 19% of total U.S. crude oil exports in 2018. South Korea surpassed China to become the second-largest single destination for U.S. crude oil exports in 2018, receiving 236,000 b/d compared with China’s 228,000 b/d (Figure 2).
However, the distribution of U.S. crude oil exports by destination varied significantly from the first half of 2018 to the second half. In the first half of 2018, the United States exported 376,000 b/d of crude oil to China, which made China the largest single destination for U.S. crude oil exports for that period. However, in August, September, and October of 2018, the United States exported no crude oil to China, and then in November and December it exported significantly less than in earlier months. In the second half of 2018, the United States exported 83,000 b/d of crude oil to China, a decrease of 294,000 b/d from the first half (Figure 3).
In the summer of 2018, as part of ongoing trade negotiations between the United States and China, China temporarily included U.S. crude oil on a list of goods potentially subject to an increase in import tariffs. At the same time, the difference between the international crude oil benchmark Brent and the U.S. domestic price West Texas Intermediate (WTI) futures prices narrowed rapidly between June and July 2018. Brent prices went from $9 per barrel (b) higher than WTI in June to $6/b higher than WTI in July. The rapidly narrowing price discount of U.S. crude oils versus international crude oils and the potential for higher import tariffs caused Chinese buying of U.S. crude oil to slow.
Although U.S. crude oil exports to China slowed in the second half of 2018, exports to South Korea, Taiwan, Canada, and India increased significantly. U.S. crude oil exports to South Korea increased 247,000 b/d (222%) between the first and second half of 2018. U.S. crude oil exports to other destinations in Asia also increased, particularly to Taiwan, which rose 111,000 b/d (168%) in the second half of 2018 compared with the first half, and to India, which increased 86,000 b/d (97%) during the same period.
Despite the volume changes in U.S. crude oil destination between the first and second halves of 2018, the list of destinations has remained consistent over the past three years. Of the 27 destinations that took U.S. crude oil in 2016, the first year of unrestricted U.S. crude oil exports, 22 destinations did so again in 2017 and again in 2018 (Figure 4). Furthermore, few destinations appear to be one-time recipients of U.S. crude oil, other than those such as the Marshall Islands that were listed because of data collection methods and ship-to-ship transfers.
U.S. average regular gasoline price increases, diesel price falls
The U.S. average regular gasoline retail price rose nearly 8 cents from the previous week to $2.55 per gallon on March 18, down 5 cents from the same time last year. The East Coast price rose nearly 9 cents to $2.52 per gallon, the Gulf Coast price rose over 8 cents to $2.30 per gallon, the Midwest price rose nearly 8 cents to $2.48 per gallon, the Rocky Mountain price rose nearly 7 cents to $2.32 per gallon, and the West Coast price rose nearly 5 cents to $3.03 per gallon.
The U.S. average diesel fuel price fell nearly 1 cent to $3.07 per gallon on March 18, nearly 10 cents higher than a year ago. The Midwest price fell nearly 2 cents to $2.99 per gallon, the Gulf Coast price fell over 1 cent to $2.87 per gallon, and the West Coast price fell nearly 1 cent to $3.50 per gallon. The Rocky Mountain price increased nearly 1 cent, remaining at $2.94 per gallon, and the East Coast price rose less than 1 cent, remaining at $3.12 per gallon.
Propane/propylene inventories rise
U.S. propane/propylene stocks increased by 1.0 million barrels last week to 51.1 million barrels as of March 15, 2019, 6.3 million barrels (14.0%) greater than the five-year (2014-2018) average inventory levels for this same time of year. Gulf Coast, East Coast, and Rocky Mountain/West Coast inventories increased by 1.2 million barrels, 0.4 million barrels, and 0.1 million barrels, respectively, while Midwest inventories decreased by 0.7 million barrels. Propylene non-fuel-use inventories represented 12.1% of total propane/propylene inventories.
Residential heating fuel prices decrease
As of March 18, 2019, residential heating oil prices averaged nearly $3.22 per gallon, 1 cent per gallon below last week’s price but 16 cents per gallon above last year’s price at this time. Wholesale heating oil prices averaged $2.09 per gallon, nearly 4 cents per gallon less than last week’s price but 8 cents per gallon more than a year ago.
Residential propane prices averaged $2.41 per gallon, less than 1 cent per gallon lower than last week’s price and almost 8 cents per gallon lower than a year ago. Wholesale propane prices averaged nearly $0.84 per gallon, less than 1 cent per gallon above last week’s price but 3 cents per gallon below last year’s price.
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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.
Headline crude prices for the week beginning 16 March 2020 – Brent: US$30/b; WTI: US$28/b
Headlines of the week