by David Haggith, The Great Recession Blog:
The crude oil price rally has been completely crushed, though I’ll admit I was wrong when I predicted crude oil prices would plummet in March or April as the perfect storm developed against oil prices. Instead, they rallied. In spite of that, I continued to believe my error was in timing and not in fact — not in the fact that a another harsh fall in oil prices was beating a path to our doors.
Crude oil prices beaten down by a storm still building
So, I continued to write articles about the forces building against oil prices, even in the face of a strong rally — a rally that many believed would set a new floor for oil for the remainder of 2016. That storm has, as of today, completely clawed back the post-March rally by taking crude oil prices back to a three month low and to where they stood at the start of the year as well. West Texas Intermediate just struck $42/barrel today.
That said, oil still has not gone back into the dark valley from which it came in the winter of oil’s discontent, and to which I said it would return.
I still believe the full strength of this storm is yet to be felt. So, my oil price prediction is that we hit $30/barrel again, before next March, but probably even by this fall. I have to state a caveat to that prediction … and not because I want to hedge my bet. I don’t like hedging my bets, as I prefer to hit them straight on the nose for a clear victory.
As stated in an earlier article, we have no way of knowing anymore what the Fed with its cloaked operations, liberal hand, and infinite money potential is doing at any moment to manipulate the price of the oil market in the same way it has admitted to doing with the stock market. Anytime the Fed sees oil bringing a serious gale against its heavily encumbered member banks, you can now be sure it will intervene to save the banks (at any cost). The Fed is loathe to let markets be markets and has become so deeply involved in market manipulation that there is no longer any basis for assuming any market will run as a truly free market. (But, if my prediction is wrong, I don’t know how I’ll be able to show it was likely for that reason.)
Nevertheless, I think forces are moving in that will ultimately blow everything outside of the Fed’s control. When we arrive at that inexorable day when all the oil tanks of the world — and all the tankers on land and sea — are full (as I’ve said we are likely to do and as appears to be more the case all the time), it will be hard for the Fed to manipulate the price of oil with nowhere to store the oil it buys. Reality finds a way to leak in or seep out … eventually.
Crude oil price storm develops a new front as gasoline storage backs up
One of the big drivers in the current price fall is the rise in the number of full tanks on the demand side of refineries. Refined gasoline is starting to back up to serious overflow levels. As things back up on the outflow end of refineries, inflow of crude to the refineries has to be slowed down, so tanks start backing up more on the refineries’ supply end, too.
For almost two years, the spotlight in the global oil market has been on a surplus of crude. The latest stumble in prices has shown that the [now] glut extends further…. Combined inventories held by industrialized nations of all forms of oil — from crude to refined products to natural gas liquids — reached a record of more than 3 billion barrels last month…. In the U.S., gasoline stockpiles were at the highest for the time of year since 1984 as record consumption failed to drain the glut refiners created when crude was cheap…. “It is the plight of oil products — in particular the light products such as gasoline — that is slowing the pace of total stock-draws even as crude stocks fall, and of the eventual re-balancing….” [US] gasoline supplies are so swollen that at least five tankers hauling the fuel to New York were turned away over the past few weeks…. Even China, the world’s biggest energy consumer, has been dumping excess gasoline overseas to alleviate swelling stockpiles at home. (Bloomberg)
Yes, you read that right. Gasoline stockpiles — right now at the peak season of gasoline demand — are at a thirty-year high! If we cannot work down the oversupply of gasoline during the summer peak demand when everyone in the highly populated northern hemisphere is traveling, what will happen as demand drops off in the fall?
Gasoline inventories have increased four out of the last five weeks at the very time when they should normally be going down due to the normal rise in demand.
We are gradually shifting from a crude glut to a refined product one, particularly in gasoline,” Thomas Finlon, director of Energy Analytics Group said by phone “The gasoline production numbers in the United States are just astounding.” (EconMatters)
Why are production numbers astounding for gasoline? Because with a glut that brings cheap crude oil prices refineries are boiling out as much gasoline as possible — more than they can sell — to take advantage of those prices. That is creating a major backup problem on the demand side of refinery storage where the final products are held for sale. (In essence, if your crude oil tanks are full, produce as fast as you can in order to move that oil into your tanks of product for sale … until those tanks are full, too.)
The red dragon has too much fuel for its fire
The over-abundance of gasoline in storage is certainly not limited to the US. The Great Red Dragon is choking to death on fuel. China is practically dumping gasoline and diesel all over global markets as a result of a supply overbuild already being at its limit throughout the Asian region.
The volume of China’s gasoline exports caught up with diesel last month as refiners dumped excess output in overseas markets to alleviate swelling stockpiles at home amid record domestic production. The world’s largest energy consumer more than doubled shipments in June compared with a year earlier…. The flood of shipments from China is exacerbating a glut of fuel across Asia, where processors are cutting operating rates as they grapple with a slump in refining margins…. (Bloomberg) Dutch consultancy PJK International said that gasoline stocks held independently in the Amsterdam-Rotterdam-Antwerp (ARA) hub rose more than 12% to an all-time high. (Zero Hedge)
Earlier in the year, China ramped up refinery activity as much as possible in order to build gasoline and diesel inventory while the cost of crude was still in the basement. (Everyone wants to sop up as much cheap crude as they can.) Apparently, they have reached their limit on how much finished product they can store. So, both the supply side and the demand side of refinery storage in China is choked.
In late June, JP Morgan estimated that China had pretty well filled its strategic petroleum reserve tanks where it holds crude.
One of the pillars of oil’s recovery from the lowest price in 12 years may be on the verge of crumbling. (Bloomberg)
JPM estimates that, as soon as China has topped off their SPR to the brim, China will reduce its crude imports by 15%. (Recently, China has been the world’s largest petroleum importer.) No one knows what China’s maximum storage capacity is for either crude or gasoline, but JPM extrapolated last month that they are close to reaching their maximum based on what is known of their oil data. The rate at which they have suddenly started dumping gasoline on the market indicates their crude oil reserves are full and they are pushing oil through the refineries as quickly as possible and dumping into the market on the other side at minimal margins as everything finally backs up to capacity from the oil wells to the gas-station pumps.
Demand in China for crude oil fell by 2.7% in May; but Chinese imports of crude fell by a mind-blowing 41% year on year. That China is solving its backup by dumping refined products as exports is reflected in the fact that Chinese exports of refined petroleum products rose by 38% year-on-year in June, even as crude imports fell.
For the time being, pumping out gasoline as quickly as possible has kept China’s drop in imported crude to that 2.7%, but its creating a gasoline glut that is rapidly spreading across the globe. That is already choking China’s production and everyone else’s … all the way back to the pipes of the producers.
That all means we are much nearer that day when all the oil tanks in the world are full, which is extremely bearish for the prices of finished products and crude and should put more pressure on the margins of US refineries and oil producers alike. Certainly, China’s dumping of gasoline and diesel throughout Asia and Europe means that its imports of refined fuels from the US and other nations are terminated for those nations that customarily exported finished petroleum products to China. The market is now saturated everywhere.
Worsening inventories in oversupply of crude oil
The backup at the outflow end is new, but there is nothing new about the backup in tanks at the inflow end of refineries where crude sits waiting to be turned into gasoline and other products. Inventories on the supply side remain swollen. At 520-million barrels, crude oil supply is more than ten percent higher than where it was this time last year when it began its catastrophic price march downhill.
That combination of supply and demand-side inventory has reached an all-time record of 2.08 billion barrels. Now that refineries have limited places to put the surplus fuels they are producing, they are spinning their wheels in the slick oil sands. Refiners, and not just producers (not always one and the same), are now suffering collapsing margins.
At the same time, we’re nearing another maintenance season, when production is always cut, but that didn’t have much effect last spring as I (and some others) thought it would; but will it help form the perfect storm now that the entire oil industry is starting to choke in overflow?
A dangerous new trend line in crude oil prices
Zero Hedge published the following graph that shows how crude oil prices fell and rose and fell in 2016 and how that almost exactly matches the pattern of 2015, only at lower price points along the journey:
Demand for crude oil typically falls off during the second half of summer. This year crude prices peaked (for the present, at least) in June and have since slid about 17%. Last summer crude prices also peaked in June, and then July broke their back. The summer before that (2014), crude oil peaked for the year in June and then prices fell off a cliff the rest of the year, dropping 50% by year’s end.
Oil producers are concerned by what is shaping up to look like a new trend in the oil market where prices rally until June and then crashes the entire remainder of they year.
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