Best in Energy – 12 December 2022

U.S. official berates shale firms and investors ($FT)¹

U.K. grid orders coal-fired units to start warming up²

France ramps up nuclear generation, easing shortages

China’s shipbuilders move into LNG tanker market

India’s coal mine production rises, with spot auctions

U.S. container trade moves to east coast ports ($WSJ)

Open source tests traditional spying agencies ($WSJ)

U.S./EU diplomacy on price cap reconstructed ($WSJ)

U.S. officials claim fusion power breakthrough ($FT)

Texas crypto-mining boom turns into bust ($BBG)

Thurrock council’s $500 million loss on solar ($BBG)

G7/Russia oil price cap introduced smoothly ($WSJ)

Anti-oil protests and theory of social change ($FT)

¹ When policymakers appeal to “patriotism,” or decry its absence, it usually means they have run out of good arguments. When I hear arguments based on patriotism and its variants, I am instinctively suspicious about the speaker’s motivations, and try to work out how someone is trying to mislead or distract attention from their own failures.

² Coal-fired units need roughly four hours to reach full generation from a warm start and 10-12 hours from a cold start. The grid’s instruction to start warming up ensures the two massive coal-fired units at Drax will be available to help meet electricity consumption during the evening peak on December 12. Before privatisation of the U.K. electricity industry, the state-owned Central Electricity Generating Board (CEGB) would often keep at least one coal-fired power station warmed up but not generating so it could be brought into service at relatively short notice. Long ramping times for coal-fired units, and the enormous quantity of fuel burned before commercial generation starts, are one reason gas-fired units are more efficient and have largely supplanted them.

CHINA’s semiconductor (integrated circuits) trade – export earnings have grown rapidly, but the cost of imports has risen even faster, so the country’s trade balance has become increasingly adverse:

Best in Energy – 30 November 2022

Guangzhou and other cities see more protests, arrests

France says most energy use reduction due to weather

Europe accelerates deployment of domestic heat pumps

(see also IEA report on future of heat pumps)

Europe increases LNG imports from Russia ($BBG)

EU struggles to agree caps on oil and gas prices ($FT)

Europe’s energy price controls cost €700 billion ($BBG)

Los Angeles port loses cargo share ($BBG)

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:

Best in Energy – 23 November 2022

[MUST READ] U.S. Treasury publishes regulations for Russia price cap

Vitol chief says price cap will divert flow to small traders

Iran’s leaders struggle to reach out to moderates ($WSJ)

South California vessel queue dissipates  ($WSJ)

China’s coronavirus controls are multiplying

China’s renewable generation hits record high

U.S./Canada gas flows support winter reliability

Europe’s business confidence slumps ($FT)

Selective self-deception is an important leadership skill, especially in politics and diplomacy, but sometimes leaders say things they must know to be untrue, and I’m reminded of the exchange between Alice and the White Queen in Lewis Carroll’s “Through the Looking-Glass”:

“I can’t believe that!” said Alice.

“Can’t you?” the Queen said in a pitying tone. “Try again: draw a long breath, and shut your eyes.”

Alice laughed. “There’s no use trying,” she said: “one can’t believe impossible things.”

“I daresay you haven’t had much practice,” said the Queen. “When I was your age, I always did it for half-an-hour a day. Why, sometimes I’ve believed as many as six impossible things before breakfast.”

BRENT’s front-month futures price is trading close to the average since the start of the century once adjusted for inflation. The current price of around $87 per barrel is in the 54th percentile for all months since 2010 and the 47th percentile for all months since 2000:

Best in Energy – 16 November 2022

India’s refiners prepare for price cap from early December

China’s refiners request state aid on Russian crude ($BBG)

Europe’s energy crisis and supply security lessons ($BBG)

U.K. households and the increase in energy debts ($BBG) ¹

California ports report drop in container volumes ($WSJ)

Freeport LNG – root cause report on explosion

¹ Food and energy shortages have always been about prices and affordability rather than physical supplies and availability. Higher-income and wealthier households will always find ways to put food on the table and heat their homes, it is lower-income and poorer households that lack financial resources that are unable to cope and hit hardest (“Corn supply of ancient Rome”, Rickman, 1980).

SOUTHERN CALIFORNIA’s ports are experiencing a sharp drop in container traffic reflecting contentious labour negotiations and the threat of a strike as well as the slowdown in global merchandise trade and efforts by U.S. manufacturers and distributors to cut excess inventories. Combined container traffic through the neighbouring ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach was just 0.84 million twenty-foot equivalent units (TEUs) in October, down from 1.07 million TEUs in the same month in 2021, and the lowest for the time of year since the recession of 2009:

Best in Energy –  24 October 2022

Russia oil exports will be able to evade price cap

Russia’s nuclear forces – command and control

China boosts diesel and jet exports in September

U.S. shale producers disregard SPR refill offer

U.S. oil firms reluctant to increase output ($WSJ)

Southern California’s port backlog clears ($WSJ)

Schlumberger rebrands itself as SLB

U.S. SPR used more actively ($FT)

U.S. gas flows in 2021 (Sankey diagram)

Venezuela’s opposition seeks deal ($FT)

UN climate talks lose momentum ($BBG)

EUROZONE manufacturers report the sector has entered recession, based on preliminary results from the monthly purchasing managers survey. Partial results show the manufacturing activity index slipped to just 46.6 in October (14th percentile for all months since 2006) from 48.4 in September (24th percentile):

EUROPE’s temperatures are expected to be at or above the long-term seasonal average during the three months from November to January, according to the European Centre for Medium-Range Weather Forecasting. Mild temperatures through October and the relatively warm outlook for the first part of the winter have contributed to downward pressure on the region’s gas futures prices:

Best in Energy – 17 October 2022

[MUST READ] U.S./China relations in Xi Jinping era ($WSJ)

[MUST READ] Nuclear war lessons from past crises ($WSJ)

[MUST READ] China prioritises energy security ($BBG)

Europe’s gas supply still at risk from cold winter weather

EU tries to reach internal consensus on capping gas prices

OPEC+ officials defend Saudi Arabia after U.S. criticism

NOPEC law would escalate U.S./Saudi tensions ($BBG)

California drought drains Lake Shasta ($WSJ)

China plans to boost coal and oil inventories

China to stop LNG resales to Europe ($BBG)

Retailers accelerate sales as inflation rises ($BBG)

Diesel shortage threatens global economy ($BBG)

EUROPE’s gas futures prices for November and December have continued to fall as regional storage facilities near maximum capacity. There is enough gas in stock to ensure supplies through the first half of the winter. But the risk to supplies in the second half and during next year’s refill season is keeping prices for 2023 high:

Best in Energy – 29 September 2022

Germany says gas consumption too high

German economists predict recession in 2023

Rotating blackouts could hit cell service¹

California’s demand response in heatwave

China says yuan stable and healthy (trans.)²

Lebanon forced to devalue currency ($FT)

Nord Stream: too early to conclude sabotage

Nord Stream fourth leak discovered ($BBG)

Nord Stream who sabotaged the lines? ($FT)

Hydrocarbon investment in energy transition

Global spending on advertising is falling

¹ Fixed line telephone systems carried their own electricity supply so the network would remain operational during power cuts. From this story it appears cell towers rely on the public distribution system and have not (yet) been prioritised in the same way as hospitals and other essential customers to ensure they remain operational during rotating power cuts. It is a classic example of how complexity and the unplanned evolutionary growth of networks can lead to the fusion or “coupling” of formerly separate systems, unintentionally creating a single point of failure (“Normal accidents”, Perrow, 1999). It is also an example of how the failure of the petroleum, gas or electricity networks can result in the failure of other systems critical to the functioning of a modern economy and society (“Brittle power”, Lovins and Lovins, 1982).

² If a government or a business or any other organisation has to say publicly everything is okay, or some variant, that’s an important sign of problems and stresses. If it really was okay, there would be no need to say it. Do don’t say. So statements such as this are important markers thought not in the way policymakers intend.

U.S. PETROLEUM inventories depleted by -13 million barrels last week, the largest decline this year. Drawdowns included crude (-5 million barrels), gasoline (-2 million), jet fuel (-2 million) and distillate fuel oil (-3 million). Petroleum inventories have depleted in 86 out of the last 117 weeks by a total of -464 million barrels since the start of July 2020. Distillate inventories are just 114 million barrels, the lowest for the time of year since 1996:

Best in Energy – 27 September 2022

Russia gas pipelines hit by suspected sabotage¹

Nord Stream says three lines damaged in one day¹

U.S./EU lobby for Russian oil exports price cap

LNG market consolidated by higher credit costs

Nigeria’s electricity collapses for fourth time in 2022

California tries to balance EVs with grid limits ($WSJ)

U.S. refined petroleum exports hit record high

U.K. energy agency distracted by restructure ($FT)

U.S./China academic exchanges diminish ($FT)

U.S./China cyber-espionage (trans.)

¹ Like damage to other subsea pipelines and cables, the leaks in the Nord Stream 1 and 2 pipelines could have been caused accidentally by a trawler, a ship’s anchor dragging, or a submarine. But pipelines are marked on nautical charts and such incidents are rare. The probability of two pipelines being accidentally breached at the same time, reportedly in three separate locations, when both lines are at the centre of a major international dispute, is very low, which makes it much more likely they were unintentionally damaged by a submarine or deliberately sabotaged.

BRENT’s front-month futures price is back to year-ago levels once adjusted for core inflation excluding food and energy prices. The real price of $85 per barrel (U.S.$2022) is close to long-term averages since 2010 (53rd percentile) and 2000 (46th percentile) though still somewhat above the average since 1990 (69th percentile):

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Best in Energy – 22 September 2022

U.S/EU rivalry for high-energy industry ($WSJ)

South Korea reverts to coal generation ($BBG)

California relied on gas generation in heatwave

UAE oil firm explores Gunvor purchase ($BBG)

U.S./China banking and national security ($FT)

U.S. INTEREST RATE traders expect an imminent business cycle downturn is virtually certain and will be relatively severe. The U.S. Treasury yield curve between two-year and ten-year securities is more inverted than at any time since September 1981, when the economy was entering the second instalment of what proved to be double-dip recession. Like the early 1980s, the central bank finds itself forced to continue tightening monetary policy even as the economy weakens to bring inflation back under control:

LA NIÑA conditions are entering their third year, with sea surface temperatures in the central-eastern Pacific almost -1.0°C below the seasonal average last month:

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Best in Energy – 20 September 2022

Germany’s auto sector emissions remain high

China boosts imports of coal from Russia

EU/Africa tensions over gas investment ($FT)

La Niña to boost winter heating in Japan ($BBG)

U.S. shale producers hit drilling limits ($WSJ)

U.S. central bank refocuses on inflation ($WSJ)

Stranded asset story and the energy crisis ($FT)

Renewables and domestic energy security ($FT)

California relies on nuclear for 10% of electricity

United States is shifting policy on Taiwan ($BBG)

Coal boom leads to expansion of marginal mines

U.S. TREASURY securities with ten year maturity are yielding 3.53%, the highest since 2010, as traders anticipate the central bank will have to keep interest rates higher for longer to bring down inflation. Yields are rising at the fastest year-over-year rate since 1999. The increase is testing the downward trend in place since the mid-1980s. If the increase is sustained it will force a widespread re-pricing of most other assets:

HEDGE FUNDS and other money managers made few changes to their positions in the six most important petroleum futures and options contracts in the week to September 13. There were total net purchases of +4 million barrels with buying in NYMEX and ICE WTI (+10 million) and Brent (+3 million) but sales of U.S. gasoline (-5 million), U.S. diesel (-3 million) and European gas oil (-1 million):

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