CHINA’s manufacturers reported a steep decline in activity last month as the economy buckled under pressure from city-level lockdowns. The official purchasing managers’ index slipped to 48.0 in November (1st percentile for all months since 2011), the lowest since April 2022, and before that the first wave of the pandemic in February 2020:
U.S. DISTILLATE inventories rose +4 million bbl to 113 million bbl last week. Stocks are still -20 million bbl (-15%, -1.04 standard deviations) below the pre-pandemic five-year average but the deficit has narrowed from -34 million bbl (-24%, -2.05 standard deviations) on October 7:
EUROZONE manufacturers reported a further deterioration in business activity this month according to preliminary results from the purchasing managers’ survey. The composite activity index fell to 48.5 in September (24th percentile) down 49.6 in August (28th percentile) and 49.8 in July (29th percentile). The region’s economy is sliding into recession – even before expected energy shortages this winter:
U.S. INITIAL CLAIMS for unemployment benefits are still running at very low rates, with just 213,000 new claims filed last week on a seasonally adjusted basis. Core inflation is unlikely to fall to the Federal Reserve’s target of a little over 2% per year with the labour market this tight – which explains the central bank’s aggressiveness in raising interest rates:
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U.S./China navy competition and Northern Sea Route
EUROPEAN GAS OIL calendar spreads between December 2022 and December 2023 have fallen into a backwardation of less than $11 per barrel from almost $33 in mid-June, as traders anticipate the onset of a recession depressing consumption:
JAPAN LNG STOCKS at the end of May had risen to 2.36 million tonnes, the highest for the time of year for at least seven years, as the country’s utilities accumulate inventories to protect against possible supply disruptions in winter 2022/23:
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U.S. PETROLEUM inventories increased by +4 million bbl to 1,685 million bbl last week. The one-week increase was the largest so far this year. But stocks are still at the lowest seasonal level since 2008:
Global distillate inventories remain low but have shown some signs of stabilising as the business cycle slows in response to inflation, coronavirus outbreaks and increased uncertainty following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
In the United States, distillate fuel oil inventories fell by 3 million barrels to 111 million in the week to April 8, according to high-frequency data from the Energy Information Administration.
Distillate stocks are 28 million barrels (20%) below the pre-pandemic five-year seasonal average and at the lowest level for the time of year since 2008 (“Weekly petroleum status report”, EIA, April 13).
Based on stock movements in previous years, inventories are expected to fall as low as 105 million barrels before the end of June, with the forecast minimum ranging from 97-111 million barrels.
Stocks have been tight since the start of the year but the situation has stabilised since early March with some of the more extreme downside inventory scenarios receding.
High prices for all petroleum products but especially middle distillates such as diesel, heating oil, jet fuel and gas oil are blunting consumption growth.
More importantly, there are signs consumer and business spending has started to decelerate under pressure from inflation, increased uncertainty and supply chain disruptions.
As the pandemic has receded, consumer pending has also begun to rotate from distillate-intensive manufactured products to less distillate-intensive services.
In Europe, too, distillate stocks are low but have stabilised since the start of March in response to high prices and slowing consumption.
Europe’s distillate inventories amounted to just 392 million barrels at the end of March, the lowest for the time of year since 2015, according to estimates compiled by Euroilstock.
But inventories had risen by more than 12 million barrels compared with the end of February, the largest seasonal increase for more than two decades.
The last time stocks rose this rapidly between February and March was in 2008, when surging crude and diesel prices and diminishing economic activity also caused stocks to start rising from a very low level.
In Singapore, stocks have fallen to just 7.6 million barrels, the lowest seasonal level since 2008, and the storage hub is the tightest of all the regions.
Distillates are the most cyclically sensitive of the major petroleum products and a slowdown in consumption growth is normally associated with a mid-cycle slowdown or an end-of-cycle recession.
There are some early signs inventory depletion has slowed or even stopped altogether, with stocks broadly stable since the middle of March, but it will take a few more weeks before any turning point is confirmed.