BRENT’s six-month calendar spread has fallen to a backwardation of $4.90 per barrel (95th percentile for all trading days since 1990) down from $7.60 (98th percentile) a month ago and a record over $15-20 in the first months after Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. The softening spread is consistent with a recession in Europe and China, possibly spreading across the rest of the world, easing pressure on oil supplies in 2023:
U.S. TREASURY yield curve is now more inverted between two-year and ten-year maturities than at any time since September 1981 at the start of the second instalment of the double-dip recession. U.S. interest rate traders anticipate an exceptionally rapid turn around in monetary policy. Such a rapid pivot is consistent with a soft-landing allowing the central bank to unwind rate rises quickly, or because a hard-landing eliminates inflation and requires it to support growth and employment instead:
U.S. OIL PRODUCERS increased the number of rigs drilling for oil to 622 on November 10 up from 610 two weeks earlier. Drilling increased significantly for the first time since July. The number of active rigs has rebounded from a pandemic low of just 172 in August 2020 and is nearing the pre-pandemic level of 683 in early March 2020.
But the resumption has been much slower than after the two previous downturns. The rig count has risen by a total of +450 (+3.8 per week) over the 117 weeks since August 2020 compared with an increase of +544 (+4.6 per week) at the same point after the last cyclical low in 2016 and +885 (+7.6 per week) after the cyclical low in 2009:
U.S. PETROLEUM INVENTORIES including the strategic reserve fell by -4 million barrels in the week to November 4. There were only minor changes in stocks of distillate fuel oil (-1 million barrels), jet fuel (+1 million barrels) and gasoline (-1 million barrels). Total inventories have depleted by -498 million barrels since the start of July 2020 and are at the lowest seasonal level since 2004:
LONDON’s temperatures have been higher than the long-term seasonal average consistently since the middle of October, reducing heating demand and gas consumption. The number of heating degree days so far this winter has reached just 117 compared with a long-term average of 153. But the city-region is only 10% of the way through the expected heating season. The half-way point doesn’t normally arrive until January 23 as a result of seasonal lag:
China explores gradual retreat from lockdowns ($WSJ)
ATMOSPHERIC concentrations of carbon dioxide (CO2) at the Mauna Loa observatory on Hawaii rose to 415 parts per million (ppm) in October 2022 up from 404 ppm in October 2017 and 391 ppm in October 2012. CO2 concentrations have increased at a compound annual rate of +0.57% per year between 2017 and 2022. On the current trajectory, concentrations are likely to reach 430 ppm, the maximum scientists say is consistent with +1.5°C of average global warming, in 2027:
¹ A fixed price cap that will be reviewed regularly in the light of market conditions sounds a lot like creating an “Organization of Petroleum Importing Countries” (OPIC) with all the resulting problems of information collection, analysis, forecasting and decision-making. OPEC has struggled to be an effective market manager; there is no reason to think OPIC will be any more successful.
Some operational and policy questions for OPIC:
How will the organisation estimate current production and consumption?
How will the organisation forecast future production, consumption, inventories and prices?
Will OPIC seek input from oil traders and refiners?
Will OPIC hold regular meetings to decide policy?
How often will the organisation review and revise the price cap?
Will OPIC coordinate with OPEC and OPEC⁺ ?
What is the relationship between OPIC and the IEA?
How will OPIC respond if Russia cuts production and exports?
Will the U.S./IEA release more crude and product stocks to counter any interruption of Russia’s oil exports?
Will G7⁺ set policy unilaterally or will it take into account the interests of third-country importers (e.g. China and India)?
U.S. GAS INVENTORIES rose by +107 billion cubic feet (bcf) in the week to October 28. Inventories have increased by a total of +2,119 bcf since the start of April, the fastest seasonal rise since 2019 and before that 2015. Stocks are still -203 bcf (-5%) below the pre-pandemic average for 2015-2019 but the deficit has narrowed from -401 bcf (-14%) since mid-August:
¹ This article seems to be merging the related but separate concepts of rotating power cuts to cope with possible electricity shortages caused by insufficient gas-fired and renewable generation this winter with restarting the grid after a total failure such as might be caused by an accident or sabotage.
“Yarrow” sounds like a plan for a “black start” of generation, transmission and distribution systems following complete failure. Electricity network managers in the United Kingdom and other countries have planned for a black start for decades. It is one of those remote “high impact low probability” risks commonly used in scenario planning.
The United Kingdom has never had to undertake a nationwide black start though a regional one was necessary in parts of the southeast following damage caused by the Great Storm of October 1987.
Black starts involve a complicated series of steps and would take several days to complete. Designated generating units would have to be started up autonomously, following by limited energisation of the transmission grid, first regionally and then nationally.
Black start sites often have auxiliary diesel-fired generators maintained at a high state of readiness that can restart without external power. The auxiliary generator is then used to start one or more main generators (usually oil, coal or gas-fired) on the same site which are then reconnected to the grid.
Progressively more generators would be started up and synchronised to the network, which would start to provide limited power to the local distribution systems. Protected sites would start to receive power and then more customers as sufficient power becomes available.
The process could take up to 5-7 days in the event of total failure. In the meantime most customers would receive no power or be subject to rotating power cuts to limit demand while generation is restored gradually.
The complexity and time needed for a full black start explains why grid managers attempt to avoid them at all costs. Temporary but controlled load-shedding directed by grid managers is preferable to uncontrolled cascading failure of the power grid leading to collapse and forcing a black start.
Black start should be a very remote risk in a well-run grid. But the sabotage of the Nord Stream pipelines has focused attention on the risks of deliberate attacks on energy infrastructure and will make black start a higher priority for emergency planners.
EUROZONE manufacturers reported an accelerating decline in activity last month as the region’s economy was hit by inflation, soaring energy prices, supply chain problems, Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and the EU sanctions imposed in response. The composite purchasing managers’ index slipped to 46.2 in October (12th percentile for all months since 2006) from 48.4 in September (24th percentile) and 58.3 in October 2021 (92nd percentile). The composite index has been below the 50-point threshold dividing expanding activity from a contraction for four months running, confirming the zone’s economy is entering a recession:
CHINA’s manufacturers reported a decline in activity last month as the economy struggled with repeated lockdowns. The official purchasing managers’ index slipped to 49.2 in October (4th percentile for all months since 2011) from 50.1 in September (24th percentile). Manufacturing activity has contracted in seven of ten months so far in 2022:
SOUTHERN CALIFORNIA’s ports handled the lowest volume of containers in the month of September since 2009, as spending on merchandise slowed and retailers struggled to reduce excess inventories:
NORTHWEST EUROPE’s gas futures prices for deliveries in December, the first part of winter, are still above those for Northeast Asia, continuing to divert cargoes. But the premium has narrowed to around €30/MWh from €60-75 two months ago as Europe’s gas supply has improved and storage has neared maximum capacity. Europe’s lower gas prices are steadily filtering through to lower prices in East and South Asia for spot cargoes, though prices remain exceptionally high compared with before 2022:
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: