U.S. BUSINESS INVENTORIES remained elevated in January as manufacturers and distributors struggled to work down excess stocks despite an acceleration in retail sales. Reducing unplanned inventories is likely to take at least another six months, even if the economy avoids a recession, which will keep freight volumes under pressure until the third quarter of 2023:
U.S. INTEREST RATE traders have slashed exectations for future rate rises as the banking system comes under strain. Banks are heavily engaged in maturity and liquidity transformation, funding longer-term loans with shorter-term deposits and other borrowing. The progressive inversion of the yield curve is putting that function under increasing strain. Silicon Valley Bank (SVB), which failed on March 10 after a run by depositors, may have been an outlier. But the intensifying inversion poses challenges for all banks. Following the run on SVB, traders increasingly think concerns about financial stability will constrain future interest rate increases. Futures prices imply benchmark overnight interbank rates will end the year at around 4.50% (the same level as now) rather than 5.50-5.75% (which was expected as recently as March 8):
U.S. DRILLING activity continues to slow. The combined oil and gas rig count fell by -3 in the seven days to March 10. The total number of active rigs has fallen in 9 of the last 14 weeks by a total of -38 rigs (-5%) since early December:
HEDGE FUND and other money manager positions in the six major petroleum futures and options contracts on February 21, 2023:
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. INTEREST RATE traders continue to boost their expectations for benchmark short rates at the end of the year as the central bank signals rates may have to go higher and stay there for longer to bring inflation back to target. Rates are now expected to be around 5.25-5.50% in December 2023 up from an expectation of 4.25-4.50% at the start of February:
COMMITMENT OF TRADERS reports – the U.S. Commodity Futures Trading Commission (CFTC) and ICE Futures Europe suspended publication of their commitments of traders reports in late January following a ransomware attack on a major market participant and infrastructure provider which resulted in incomplete submissions. Both are now starting to catch up with the backlog of missed weekly reports. ICE has caught up; the CFTC is still some weeks behind. I am not going to publish a weekly analysis again until they have both caught up fully since the reports now contain very out of date information. For reference, however, the hedge fund and money manager positions on February 7, the most recent currently available, are shown below:
U.S. OIL AND GAS drilling rigs fell by -7 last week to 753. The number of active rigs has fallen in five of the last eight weeks and is at the lowest since the start of July 2022. The upturn that started in August 2020 after the first wave of the pandemic has at least paused and possibly ended as drilling rates slide in response to lower oil and gas prices:
BRENT’s six-month calendar spread is trading in a backwardation of $1.80 (71st percentile for all days since 1990). The spread has tightened from a contango of $0.65 (34th percentile) since December 9 as expectations for a soft-landing in the global economy have increased. But it is well below levels before Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, implying the market is comfortably supplied despite sanctions on Russia and output restraint by OPEC⁺ and U.S. shale firms:
EUROZONE manufacturers reported business activity fell in February for the eighth consecutive month. Preliminary estimates from partial survey data put the purchasing managers’ index at 48.5 (25th percentile for all months since 2006) in February compared with 48.8 (26th percentile) in January:
EU EMISSIONS allowance prices have hit a record €100 per tonne of CO2 equivalent for the compliance period ending in December 2023:
¹ Freeport LNG suffered a catastrophic failure after multiple safety systems failed and personnel ignored warning signs and lost situational awareness about the state of the plant. The resulting explosion is a classic example of what James Reason called an “organisational accident” – multiple systems should have prevented an incident but they were allowed to erode because of a poor internal safety culture leading to a rapid increase in risk (“Managing the risks of organisational accidents”, Reason, 1997).
Reason’s book is one of the best I have read on any topic, offering powerful insights in an engaging and accessible way. He provides a general framework for understanding why many catastrophic industrial and transportation failures happen. Everyone operating critical systems and machinery should be required to read it as part of their training. I can strongly recommend it to everyone else who is interested in safety, reliability and resilience systems.
U.S. OIL AND GAS drilling rates have stalled in response to the slump in prices since the third quarter of 2022. There has been no net increase in the number of active rigs (760) for the last 31 weeks:
¹ China’s high-altitude balloon overflight across North America and the U.S. decision to shoot it down is being almost totally ignored by the country’s main state-controlled media, suggesting the government is still deciding its response and/or is keen not to allow the episode to worsen relations further.
U.S. OIL DRILLING is slowing in response to the slide in prices since the middle of 2022 (when WTI was trading around $120 per barrel) especially since the start of November (when it was still $90-95). Typically there is a 15-20 week lag between a change in futures prices and a change in number of active rigs. The number of rigs drilling for oil has fallen in 7 of the last 9 weeks by a total of -28 rigs (-4%). The drilling reduction is the largest since July and August 2020 when the industry was still in shock after the first wave of the pandemic and the volume war between Russia and Saudi Arabia:
U.S. GAS PRICES have fallen less than $2.60 per million British thermal units from more than $9 six months ago. In real terms, prices have fallen to just the 3rd percentile for all months since 1990 down from the 86th percentile in August 2022: