Best in Energy – 9 January 2023

Australia/ China coal shipments mostly symbolic value

U.S. SPR rejects first round of offers to refill inventories

Mass transit systems struggling after pandemic ($WSJ)

North Korea becoming full nuclear weapons state ($FT)

Solar storms and the risk to GPS systems and shipping

Local newspapers – disruption, finance and innovation

U.S. GAS INVENTORIES ended the year at 2,891 billion cubic feet on December 30. Stocks were -293 billion cubic feet (-9%) below the pre-pandemic five-year seasonal average down from a deficit of -71 billion cubic feet (-2%) on December 16, the result of a heavy weather-driven depletion in the final two weeks of the year:

U.S. NON-MANUFACTURING businesses reported an unusually sharp deceleration in activity in December. The Institute for Supply Management’s purchasing managers’ survey, which covers services, construction, mining and real estate, slumped to 49.6 (8th percentile for all months since 1997) in December from 56.5 (63rd percentile) in November and 54.4 (35th percentile) in October.

Non-manufacturing activity has been slowing in line with the manufacturing sector over the last 12 months  following the post-pandemic boom. The ISM non-manufacturing index is more volatile than its manufacturing counterpart, so the sudden deceleration should be treated with extreme caution. But if confirmed in the next couple of months it would indicate the business cycle downturn is spreading from merchandise to services:

Best in Energy – 4 January 2023

Duke’s insufficient generation during storm ($BBG)¹

China issues more export quotas for fuels

Japan gas suppliers seek overseas resources

India to compensate coal-fired generators

Saudi Arabia’s sovereign wealth fund ($WSJ)

U.K. steel makers seek another bailout ($FT)

China/Australia discuss end of coal boycott ($BBG)

¹ Failure of coal and gas-fired generators to start up when instructed by the grid because of instrument and equipment freezes has been a recurrent problem and major cause of power failures during extreme cold weather episodes in the last several decades. Failure to start has meant actual generation available has been much lower than forecast, reducing reserve margins and forcing rotating blackouts to restore margins to safe levels.

THE FUNDAMENTALS of commodity trading have not changed in 2500 years, illustrated by this quote about China’s commodity merchants taken from the Guan Zi, which purports to be a dialogue between Lord Huan of Qi and his powerful chief minister Guan Zhong in the Spring and Autumnperiod (771-481 BCE) but probably a compilation of traditional knowledge written during the Warring States period (481-221 BCE):

“Merchants observe outbreaks of dearth and starvation, scrutinize changes in the fortunes of states, study the patterns of the four seasons, and take notice of what goods are produced in each place. With this knowledge of prices in the marketplace, they gather up their stock of goods, load them on oxcarts and horses, and circulate throughout the four directions. Having reckoned what is abundant and what is scarce and calculated what is precious and what is worthless, they exchange what they possess for what they lack, buying cheap and selling dear … Marvellous and fantastic things arrive in timely fashion; rare and unusual goods readily gather. Day and night thus engaged, merchants tutor their sons and brothers, speaking the language of profit, teaching them the virtue of timeliness, and training them how to recognise the value of goods.”

Guan Zi: Political, Economic and Philosophical Essays from Early China (Rickett, 1985) cited in The Economic History of China: From Antiquity to the Nineteenth Century (von Glahn, 2016)

EUROPE’s gas prices are falling and the futures curve has shifted into contango as inventories remain very high for the time of year and traders no longer anticipate any risk of a shortage before the end of winter 2022/23. The end-of-winter March-April 2023 calendar spread is trading in a contango of more than €1.20/MWh down from a backwardation of €9.70 at the end of September: