Crude rally stalls as fuel prices soften
Crude rally stalls as fuel prices soften
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.
Europol warns on Daesh cyber threat
- Daesh said to be seeking malware on 'dark web'
- Extremist groups also experimenting with digital currencies
LONDON: Daesh followers could be seeking cyber-attack tools from the so-called ‘digital underground,’ according to a new report from Europol.
With Daesh forces having lost most of their territorial strongholds in the Middle East since 2016, the terror organization has increasingly retreated to the web to continue its campaign.
The annual report published on Tuesday looks at current and anticipated threats in cybercrime across the globe, and comes just as the Syrian war seems to be entering its final stage with the last militant rebel fighters holding up in the province of Idlib.
Daesh had already become well-known for using encrypted messaging apps and the ‘dark web’- an area of the Internet not accessible to search engines — to promote itself and recruit new members to its organization.
Europe’s law enforcement agency’s report now suggests that Daesh may also considering the use of cyber-attacks and using the ‘dark web’ to buy illicit malware.
“There has been much concern and speculation over the past few years that terrorists could turn to launching cyber-attacks against critical infrastructure,” the report said.
Daesh-affiliated groups have only managed to carry out a handful of “low-level” cyberattacks in the last year, the report found, including the hacking of a Swedish radio station last year when the attacker managed to play out an IS song on air, the report said.
In March this year, Daesh supporters also attempted to set up an alternative to the social networking platform Facebook, called the “Muslim’s Network.”
While concerns are growing, Europol said the organization’s current cyber-crime abilities remain in their “infancy.”
Daesh is also far more likely to buy cyber-attack tools that use malware or ransomware technology, rather than develop their own tools yet, the report found.
“While IS sympathizers have demonstrated their willingness to buy cyber-attack tools and services from the digital underground, their own internal capability appears limited,” the report read.
“While terrorist actors are aggregating open- source tools, they have yet to develop their own,” it added.
Extremist networks have also experimented with cryptocurrencies as a means of moving funds across borders, the report said.
Europol highlighted IS-affiliated websites calling for donations of the virtual currency Bitcoin last November.
As yet, no on-the-ground attack carried out in Europe has been funded with virtual currency, the report found, with financing still mainly coming from the conventional banking system and money remittance services.
The report recommended that efforts must be made to disrupt Daesh’s online propaganda in order to hinder the group’s “access to human expertise, funding and cyber tools.”
In July, a survey of academics specializing in cyberterrorism found that just over two-thirds of respondents thought cyberterrorism constituted a “significant threat.”
However, Stuart Macdonald, professor of law at Swansea University and author of the Cyberterrorism Project report told Arab News that there were differences surrounding the definition of cyberterrorism.
Cyberterrorism could potentially covering an attack that resulted in killing a huge number of people or it could just involve shutting down a website for a few hours, he said.
“But overall most agree that vulnerabilities exist in critical infrastructure. Where opinions tend to differ is whether terrorists have the capability to perpetrate acts of cyberterrorism and are motivated to commit acts of cyberterrorism as opposed to more traditional forms of physical attack.
“Some researchers believe that terrorists are likely to prefer traditional physical attacks, as these are more headline-grabbing and generally less expensive,” he said. Still, not all threats are associated with terror groups. Andrew Silke, professor of terrorism, risk and resilience at Cranfield University, said: "Today the major threat of cyber attacks comes from foreign governments, not terrorist groups and their sympathisers. Governments can control and commit the resources and knowledge needed to carry out truly serious cyber attacks. "When thinking about security then, nations are already thinking in terms of what can be done to counter attacks orchestrated by a rival government. If your security and resilience is good enough to meet that type of threat, it will also be good enough to meet the threats posed by terrorists."