Crude rally stalls as fuel prices soften

Updated 08 December 2017
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Crude rally stalls as fuel prices soften

LONDON: Surging prices for refined products, especially distillate fuel oil, led crude prices higher between June and November, but now fuels are slipping and putting crude under pressure.
Gross refining margins for producing distillate fuel oil from US crude rose from $14 per barrel in June to more than $25 per barrel in the middle of November.
The US distillate market started the year in substantial oversupply, with inventories well above the long-term average.
But as a result of strong demand, primarily in export markets, the market has moved into an increasingly large deficit as the year has progressed.
Distillate stocks have moved from a surplus of 33 million barrels over the 10-year average in February to 7 million barrels below the average at the start of December.
Stocks have fallen by more than 33 million barrels since the start of the year compared with a 10-year seasonal average fall of 3 million barrels.
As stocks have shrunk, distillate prices and margins have risen to encourage refiners to produce more of the fuel, with a clear uptrend since the end of June.
US refiners have responded by increasing crude processing and distillate production to unprecedented levels to meet demand.
US refinery crude runs have been running at record rates almost continuously since April, according to data from the US Energy Information Administration.
Runs in the most recent week were 800,000 barrels per day (bpd) higher than at the same point in 2016 and 1.8 million bpd above the 10-year seasonal average.
At the end of November, US refineries were processing crude at rates that had only ever previously been seen during the summer peak driving season.
There has been a clear tilt toward maximizing the production of distillate fuel oil to take advantage of higher margins than on gasoline.
US refineries produced a record 5.4 million bpd of distillates in the last week of November, which was 280,000 bpd higher than the year before and almost 480,000 bpd above the 10-year seasonal average.
Most of this extra distillate is being exported to Latin America and other overseas markets with only a modest increase in domestic consumption.
Strong worldwide distillate consumption reflects the synchronized economic expansion across most advanced and emerging economies and the acceleration in global trade and freight.
Distillate is set to remain the main driver of oil demand in 2018, unless there is a recession in the United States or China.
But with refineries focused on maximizing throughput to make distillate, gasoline, which is a co-product, will remain relatively more abundant.
Gasoline stocks, like distillates, have drawn down this year, but the reduction has been far smaller and stocks remain above the decade average.
In the most recent week, US gasoline stocks rose sharply by almost 6.8 million barrels, much faster than the seasonal average.
In the last four weeks, distillate stocks have also stopped tightening compared with the seasonal trend, as record refinery runs and distillate production have finally caught up with demand.
Distillate and gasoline prices and margins have been under pressure since the middle of November, amid signs that fuel markets are no longer in deficit, which has effectively capped crude oil prices.
Signs that the distillate and gasoline markets are no longer under-supplied point to less frenetic refinery runs in future and a moderation in crude demand.
In the near term, downward pressure on product and crude prices has intensified because of the record or near-record bullish positions held by hedge funds in distillates, gasoline and crude.
Portfolio managers have become very sensitive to any indication that inventory draws may be ending and that prices and margins have peaked and might be about to fall.
In the longer term, with developed and emerging markets on track for expansion next year, strong demand for distillate fuel oil should keep margins firm and impart an upward bias to crude prices in 2018.
• John Kemp is a Reuters market ­analyst. The views expressed are his own.


Oil prices rise on signs Iranian oil exports are falling further

Updated 16 October 2018
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Oil prices rise on signs Iranian oil exports are falling further

SEOUL: Oil prices dipped on Tuesday amid expectations of an increase in US crude inventories, but signs of a fall in Iranian oil exports this month kept losses in check.
International benchmark Brent crude for December delivery had fallen 6 cents, or 0.07 percent, to $80.72 per barrel by 0654 GMT.
US West Texas Intermediate crude for November delivery was down 14 cents at $71.64 a barrel.
US crude stockpiles were forecast to have risen last week for the fourth straight week, by about 1.1 million barrels, according to a Reuters poll ahead of reports from the American Petroleum Institute (API) and the US Department of Energy’s Energy Information Administration (EIA).
The API’s data is due at 4:30pm EDT on Tuesday, and the EIA report will be released at 10:30am EDT on Wednesday.
“Uncertainties will remain until Nov. 4 when it would be clear whether the United States would want to cut Iran oil exports to zero or grant waivers,” said Vincent Hwang, commodity analyst at NH Investment & Securities in Seoul.
“Brent prices are likely stay in the range of $80 a barrel or slightly higher, while WTI prices are likely to be $70-$75 a barrel,” Hwang added.
In the first two week of October, Iran exported 1.33 million barrels per day (bpd) of crude to countries including India, China and Turkey, according to Refinitiv Eikon data. That was down from 1.6 million bpd during the same period in September.
The October exports are a sharp drop from the 2.5 million bpd in April US before US President Donald Trump withdrew from a multilateral nuclear deal with Iran in May and ordered the re-imposition of economic sanctions on the country, the data showed.
The sanctions will come into force on November 4. The US special envoy for Iran said on Monday that the US is still aiming to cut Iran’s oil sales to zero.
Meanwhile, OPEC Secretary General Mohammad Barkindo said on Tuesday that global spare oil capacity was shrinking, adding that producers and companies should increase their production capacities and invest more to meet current demand.
With the world’s only sizable spare oil output capacity, Saudi Arabia is expected to export more to offset the loss of Iranian oil supply from the sanctions.
Saudi Arabia’s Energy Minister Khalid Al-Falih said on Monday at a conference in New Delhi that the kingdom is committed to meeting India’s rising oil demand and is the “shock absorber” for supply disruptions in the oil market.