CHINA’s Lower Yangtze mega-region is being hit by a wave of intense of cold which will drive a significant increase in heating demand, though most factories are closed for the Lunar New Year holiday. Temperatures in Nanjing were more than -6°C below the long-term seasonal average on January 25. So far this winter heating demand (731 HDDs) has been lower than average (789 HDDs). But the recent run of cold weather has trimmed the cumulative deficit in heating demand to -7% down from -11% on January 13:
U.S. PETROLEUM INVENTORIES including the strategic reserve rose +4 million barrels to 1,606 million barrels in the seven days to January 20. But stocks were -170 million barrels below the level a year ago and -304 million barrels below the level before the pandemic in 2019. Commercial crude stocks have increased by +33 million barrels compared with the same point last year. But only because the strategic petroleum reserve has been depleted by -220 million barrels:
SINGAPORE’s inventories of distillate fuel oils have stabilised and increased slightly since nearing a multi-year low under 7 million barrels in early November. The increase has coincided with an acceleration of diesel exports from China and a slowdown in freight movements which have relieved some of the regional shortage. Nonetheless stocks are still -2.5 million barrels (-24%) below the prior ten-year seasonal average:
CHINA imported 508 million tonnes of crude oil in 2022, down from 513 million in 2021 and 542 million in 2020, according to preliminary data from the General Administration of Customs. Slower imports as the country grappled with intermittent lockdowns eased pressure on global petroleum supplies. But the economy’s re-opening is likely to boost crude imports and tighten the market in 2023:
LONDON and Southeast England reached the half-way point in the heating season on January 23. London has experienced 769 heating degree days so far this winter compared with a long-term average of 825. After a mild spell from mid-October to mid-November, and another from mid-December to mid-January, cold spells in early December and late January have erased much but not all of the deficit in heating degree days:
U.S. REAL PERSONAL INCOMES less current transfer payments (PILT) were down marginally in the three months from September to November 2022 compared with the same period in 2021. Real PILT captures the combined impact of changes in employment, wages and other compensation, and inflation. Turning points are one of the main indicators the National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER)’s Business Cycle Dating Committee uses to identify the onset of recessions and expansions. The deceleration in PILT to zero is a sign the economy is close to stalling:
U.S. PETROLEUMINVENTORIES including the strategic reserve increased by +2 million barrels in the seven days ending on January 13 after rising by +22 million barrels the week before. The combined two-week increase was the largest since the first wave of the coronavirus pandemic in the second quarter of 2020. But similarly large increases occurred in the first weeks of 2020 and 2019 so the rise was probably attributable in part to seasonal factors. Inventories are still -94 million barrels (-5% or -2.76 standard deviations) below the prior ten-year seasonal average:
U.S. MANUFACTURERS are raising prices more slowly as input costs for raw materials and energy ease and demand for goods falls. Producer selling prices for finished products other than energy and food increased at an annualised rate of +4.2% in the three months to December 2022 down from an annualised +11.5% increase in the three months to April 2022. But selling prices are still rising twice as fast as the central bank’s target of a little over 2% per year for overall inflation, keeping upward pressure on interest rates:
LONDON’s Heathrow airport handled 109,151 metric tonnes of air cargo in December 2022 down by -14% compared with 127,188 metric tonnes in December 2021. Air freight volumes are slackening as the global manufacturing sector enters a downturn, with the United Kingdom one of the hardest-hit economies:
INDIA’s coal stocks at power plants remain low for the time of year at just 12 days of consumption, up from 9 at the same point in 2022, but down from 18 in 2021 and 19 in 2020. There is a risk inventories could deplete to critical levels in the event of a pre- or post-monsoon heatwave or other pressure on the electricity system, which explains why the government has instructed power producers to increase coal imports:
FRANKFURT and the rest of Northwest Europe are roughly half-way through the 2022/23 heating season. In the three decades between 1981 and 2010, on average 50% of heating degree days and heating demand at Frankfurt occurred before January 15. For London and southeast England, the half-way point arrives a few days later on January 23. So far this winter has been much milder than average. Frankfurt had accumulated 860 degree days up to January 15 compared with a long-term average of 1,078:
¹ Germany’s government-directed gas buying in the spot market likely contributed to the spike in prices in summer 2022 and subsequent slump in winter 2022/23. Price spikes normally occur when a price-insensitive buyer is forced into the market to buy no matter the cost and no matter how much it moves prices higher against themselves.
Spikes are often characteristic of a short-seller forced to buy back their position (“short and caught” or “he who sells what isn’t his’n, must pay the price or go to prison”).
In this case Germany purchased gas for storage regardless of cost to increase inventories and improve energy security ahead of the winter, anticipating a disruption of Russian pipeline flows. Playing the role of “forced buyer”, Germany’s buying likely caused or at least accelerated the rise in prices to record levels in August 2022. Once the forced buying was completed, however, prices corrected lower.
Some EU policymakers have suggested the spike shows the futures market “failed” in the summer of 2022 and needs to be reformed or replaced with an alternative and more representative and liquid benchmark. But arguably the market was simply responding to the presence of a very large and completely price insensitive buyer.
U.S. SERVICE SECTOR inflation appears to have peaked. But prices are still rising at an annualised rate of 5.5-7.5%, two or three times faster than the central bank target of 2.0-2.5% per year. Inflation in the labour-intensive services sector tends to be stickier than for commodities and merchandise, which is why it tends to be a focus for policymakers: