¹ The two most important observations in this article are about gas demand reductions by energy-intensive businesses:
“Lower prices are not only saving energy-intensive companies a fortune. They have also put the colour back in the elaborate creations of the Italian glass blowers at New Murano Gallery. Each of the firm’s 11 1,000 degree furnaces produces glass with a different hue and, after the company had to turn half of them off last year, almost all are back on. ‘We have nearly the full palette,’ Francesco Scarpa, one of the gallery’s co-founders.”
“Fernández-Valladares described the mood of the tile making sector that dominates his small town in Castellón province as ‘generally quite pessimistic’. Sales have plunged. Since December, demand from clients — which are mostly wholesale buyers — has dropped 30 per cent. In January, the factory resorted to the radical option of turning off the kiln for an extended period, shutting it down for 22 days to save on gas. Fernández-Valladares said he could not rule out more shutdowns. ‘We normally work through the Easter holidays and I don’t know if we’re going to have to stop.’”
Multiply these examples across the entire European Union, and it helps explain much of the reduction in temperature-adjusted gas consumption during winter 2022/23.
BRENT’s six-month calendar spread has collapsed to a backwardation of just 47 cents per barrel down from $3 per barrel at the start of March as traders anticipate a much higher probability of a hard-landing or recession following enforced takeover of the crisis-stricken Credit Suisse by rival bank UBS:
EUROPE’s gas futures summer-winter calendar spread for July 2023 to January 2024 has slumped into an increasingly wide contango as traders anticipate a record carryover over inventories from winter 2022/23 which will leave the storage system short on space. Lower gas prices in summer 2023 will encourage more consumption by power generators and major industrial users. Higher prices may still be needed to restrain consumption during the peak of next winter:
U.S. OIL DRILLING has started to slow in response to the fall in prices since the middle of 2022. The number of rigs drilling for oil was just 609 on January 27 down from a cyclical high of 627 on December 2:
BRENT’s six-month calendar spread has collapsed to a backwardation of just 67 cents per barrel (54th percentile for all trading days since 1990) from $8 (98th percentile) at the start of November. Month-to-month spreads are flat through April 2023. Traders anticipate crude supplies will remain comfortable through the first few months of next year because: (a) the EU/G7 price cap on Russia’s exports was set at a relatively high level; (b) policymakers have signalled a relaxed approach to enforcement (c) refiners have boosted purchases and inventories ahead of the price cap’s introduction; and (d) the slowing global economy is expected to dampen oil consumption:
CHINA’s official Xinhua news agency and other government-run sites are running multiple stories and commentaries emphasising epidemic controls must be applied with “softness”, “greater precision”, ensuring daily life and healthcare continues. There has been a marked change of tone from the previous military-themed rhetoric and analogies to battling the epidemic, with greater focus on resuming as much normality as possible. Like other governments facing widespread social unrest, China appears to be pursuing a mixed strategy of rolling up protestors, intensifying street policing, while trying to make selective concessions to keep the majority of the population in line by relaxing epidemic controls to reduce their social and economic costs.
BRENT’s calendar spreads for the first part of 2023 have slumped from a steep backwardation at the start of November close to contango as the end of the month nears. The nearest to deliver January-February spread is no longer a useful indicator as the January contract nears expiry and there is insufficient liquidity to make the price representative. But the more active February-March and March-April spreads are now trading close to flat from backwardations of around $1.50 per barrel at the start of the month.
Refiners and traders seem to have accelerated purchases ahead of the introduction of the planned G7 price cap on Russia’s crude exports from early next month to protect themselves against any possible disruption. Concern about the impact likely drove up prices and spreads in September and October.
But the cap itself now appears likely to be set at a relatively high level with relaxed enforcement, at least initially. The result is a marked softening in the market. At the same time, the business cycle continues to weaken across most of Europe and Asia, dampening crude demand. All of this is weighing on prices and spreads for nearby futures contracts with deliveries in early 2023:
BRENT’s six-month calendar spread has softened to a backwardation of less than $1 per barrel compared with more than $9 at the end of September and a peak of almost $22 in early March shortly after Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. The spread between January and February 2023 has moved from backwardation into a small contango. Refiners and traders increased buying ahead of the planned introduction of the price cap in case it disrupts Russia’s crude exports, creating at least a temporary pause in new buying and putting pressure on the calendar spreads for nearby months:
THE NETHERLANDS was the fourth-largest gas consumer in the European Union in 2021 accounting for 11% of the total. The country’s gas consumption was down almost -33% in October 2022 compared with the prior ten-year seasonal average as a result of above-average temperatures, high prices, and energy conservation measures to reduce reliance on imported gas from Russia following the invasion of Ukraine:
CONTAINER shipping costs were down by more than -50% in November 2022 compared with the same month in 2021, as freight volumes fell and supply chain delays eased:
BRENT’s six-month calendar spread fell to a backwardation of just over $2 per barrel on November 23, down from almost $9 a month earlier, and a high of almost $22 in early March, shortly after Russia invaded Ukraine. The spread has been easing consistently for a month and has fallen to its lowest level since December 2021. The business cycle downturn is expected to offset production restraint by OPEC⁺ and U.S. shale firms while traders anticipate Russia’s oil exports will continue flowing despite sanctions and the planned price cap:
¹ China has reported severe coronavirus outbreaks in megacities across the entire country, including Beijing and Tianjin in the northeast, Guangzhou in the southeast, and Chongqing in the southwest. Xinjiang in the northwest has been under semi-permanent lockdown for months. The central government’s lockdown and suppression strategy is failing to control transmission and disrupting the entire economy. But there is still no sign of an exit strategy that would enable the country to live with the virus, worsening the economic and oil consumption outlook for 2023.
BRENT calendar spreads for the first half of 2023 have softened significantly as traders anticipate a business cycle slowdown and China’s postponed re-opening from coronavirus will relieve some pressure on crude supplies and inventories:
BRENT spot prices and calendar spreads are retreating as traders anticipate the market will be balanced or over-supplied in 2023, after having been under-supplied continuously since the middle of 202o. Business cycle downturns across Europe, Asia and North America are expected to reduce oil consumption absolutely or relative to trend, helping rebuild depleted inventories:
U.S. FINANCIAL CONDITIONS have tightened as lenders adopt more conservative policies and higher prices for credit, risk and leverage. The Federal Reserve Bank of Chicago’s national financial conditions index has is in the 87th percentile for all months since 1990 up from the 24th percentile a year ago:
EUROPE’s gas futures prices have slumped for nearby delivery months as storage facilities near their maximum capacity but inventories continue to build rapidly. Calendar spreads from November through January have slumped into contango as storage is maxed out:
CALIFORNIA’s power grid is running short of capacity in the early evening when consumption, driven by air-conditioning, is past its late afternoon peak but still high and solar generation is rapidly fading. The load curve below for September 6 shows the strain on dispatchable generating capacity between around 1600 and 2100 hrs local time. The California Independent System Operator (CAISO)’s forecast curve shows the same problem is expected today on September 7:
BRENT spot prices and calendar spreads are consistent with a market that is still tight but past its cyclical peak. The six-month calendar spread has softened to a backwardation of $5.60 per barrel (97th percentile) from a record of more than $21 in the immediate aftermath of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine in early March. The spread from December 2022 to December 2023 has softened to a backwardation of under $10 from a peak of $16 in early June. Softening spreads reflect an increased probability that a cyclical slowdown in the major economies will cut consumption and lead to an accumulation of inventories over the next year:
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