EUROZONE manufacturers have reported a widespread decline in business activity this month. Preliminary results from the purchasing managers survey show the composite activity indicator slipping to 45.5 (8th percentile for all months since 2006) in April down from 47.1 (17th percentile) in March and 55.5 (76th percentile) a year ago. Eurozone manufacturers are now unambiguously in recession as they struggle with high energy prices, rising interest rates, excess inventories and heightened caution from household and business buyers:
NORTHEAST ASIA’s LNG prices continue to fall amid plentiful inventories in both North Asia and Europe after a mild winter at both ends of Eurasia. Futures prices for LNG to be delivered in July 2023 have fallen below $13 per million British thermal units, the lowest for 15 months since January 2022, before Russia’s invasion of Ukraine:
U.S./China struggle to stabilise relationship ($WSJ)
U.S. CENTRAL BANK chief Jerome Powell toughened his rhetoric on core inflation during congressional testimony, sending forecasts for interest rates surging higher on March 7. Rate traders expected interest rates to end 2023 at around 5.55% up from a forecast of 5.38% on March 6:
SINGAPORE distillate inventories remain at their lowest level for the time of year since 2008. Stocks are -4 million barrels (-36% or -1.91 standard deviations) below the prior ten-year seasonal average. The deficit has only narrowed slightly from six months ago when it was -4 million barrels (-34% or -2.21 standard deviations):
U.S. MANUFACTURERS reported business activity declined in February for the fourth month running. The ISM composite activity index was 47.7 in February up marginally from 47.4 in January but both readings were in only the 16th percentile for all months since 1980. New orders fell for the sixth month in a row. The new orders sub-index (47.0) was in only the 14th percentile for all months since 1980:
U.S. DISTILLATE inventories were unchanged over the seven days ending on February 24. Stocks were -14 million barrels (-11% or -0.87 standard deviations) below the prior ten-year seasonal average but the deficit has narrowed from -31 million barrels (-22% or -2.5 standard deviations) on October 7:
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:
¹ PJM’s post-event study for winter storm Elliot on December 24 is worth reading in full and confirms the major problem was the failure of many generators to respond to instructions from the grid because of a failure to start up or secure enough fuel (principally gas). Generators were unavailable even though they had been given repeated warnings of an extreme weather event for several days beforehand and told to prepare for a plunge in temperatures. In many cases, generators provided less than 1 hour of notice they would not be available. If generators cannot be depended upon to respond to instructions they cannot be considered firm dispatchable power for reliability purposes.
In response, PJM was forced to initiate a series of relatively extreme emergency measures to protect the transmission system, including voltage reductions and an order for flat-out maximum generation from units that were available.
U.S. PETROLEUM INVENTORIES including the strategic reserve totalled 1,599 million barrels on January 6, the lowest seasonal level since 2004. Stocks have fallen by -185 million barrels over the last 12 months and are down by -518 million barrels from their peak in mid-2020 as production has persistently fallen below consumption:
BRENT calendar spreads slipped into contango yesterday through May 2023. The combined six-month spread moved into contango for the first time (outside the month-end expiry process when prices and spreads are unrepresentative) for the first time since November 2020, before the first successful coronavirus vaccines were announced:
LONDON is experiencing a period of unusually low temperatures this week, exactly 70 years after similar conditions between December 5 and December 9, 1952, caused the “Great Smog” resulting in 4,000 excess deaths. As temperatures dropped to freezing, domestic and commercial coal combustion surged, sending thousands of tonnes of particulates into the air over the city. A temperature inversion trapped smoke in low-lying areas along the Thames, between the hills surrounding the metropolitan area. For four days and nights, the metropolitan area was blanketed with a suffocating mixture of fog and smoke. The map below shows areas with the worst pollution, which were also the areas with the highest excess mortality:
U.S. PETROLEUM INVENTORIES including the strategic reserve fell by -6 million bbl last week. Petroleum inventories have depleted in 88 of the last 120 weeks by a total of -486 million bbl since the start of July 2020:
U.S. DISTILLATE FUEL OIL inventories have fallen in 70 of the last 120 weeks by a total of -71 million bbl since July 2020. Stocks are at the lowest seasonal level since the U.S. Energy Information Administration began publishing weekly data in 1982:
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China boosts coal by rail deliveries by +9% (trans.)
Texas appeals for electricity conservation on July 11
U.S. BUSINESS inventory ratios have started to climb as sales slow and firms struggle to shift extra items ordered on a precautionary basis at the height of the supply-chain crisis. Manufacturers, wholesalers and retailers held inventories equivalent to 1.29 months worth of sales in April up from a cyclical low of 1.26 months in November. Excess stocks are concentrated at the retail level where the ratio has climbed to 1.18 months up from 1.09 months in October 2021.
U.S. inventory ratios remain low by pre-pandemic standards but will climb quickly if sales slow further in response to rapid inflation and a business cycle downturn. Inventory reduction is likely to weigh on economic growth over the next six months as businesses to limit or reverse overstocking:
TEXAS temperatures have climbed well above the long-term seasonal average since the start of July increasing the strain on the state’s isolated electric grid. Cumulative cooling degree days since the start of the year have been almost +30% higher than the 1981-2010 average:
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U.S. INTEREST RATE traders expect the federal funds rate to reach 3.50-3.75% by January 2023 up from 0.75-1.00% at present as the central bank attempts to bring inflation under control. If they prove necessary, increases on this scale would result in a significant slowdown in the business cycle:
DATED BRENT calendar spreads are signalling exceptional tightness over the next two months. The extreme backwardation is consistent with the disruption of Russia’s exports and the maintenance season for platforms, pipelines and fields in the North Sea. But it could also be a sign the market is being squeezed. Strong fundamentals create ideal conditions for a squeeze. “Always squeeze with the grain of the market not against it,” as a veteran trader told me over lunch many years ago:
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