NORTHERN EUROPE is forecast to experience colder-than normal temperatures through the first half of December, which will boost gas and electricity consumption. The European Centre for Medium-Range Weather Forecasting is predicting colder-than-average seasonal temperatures for the weeks from December 5 to 12 (first chart) and December 12 to 19 (second chart):
U.S. MANFACTURERS reported business activity started to decline last month, for the first time since the first wave of the pandemic. The ISM composite index slipped to 49.0 in November (22nd percentile for all months since 1980) from 50.2 in October (31st percentile) and 60.6 a year ago (96th percentile).
Manufacturing growth has decelerated progressively this year and activity now shows the first sign of falling in absolute terms. Firms signalled a further decline in new business last month. The new orders component slipped to just 47.2 in November from 49.2 in October and 61.4 a year ago. It is well-below the threshold dividing expanding activity from a contraction – implying activity is likely to slow further over the next few months:
U.S. GASOLINE inventories have remained much closer to normal, in contrast to distillates, with gasoline stocks just -9 million barrels (-4%) below the pre-pandemic five-year seasonal average on November 18:
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:
U.S. PETROLEUM INVENTORIES depleted by -11 million barrels in the week to November 11. Large drawdowns in commercial crude (-5 million bbl), crude in the strategic petroleum reserve (-4 million) and other oils (-3 million) were partially offset by increased stocks of gasoline (+2 million), distillate fuel oil (+1 million) and jet fuel (+0.3 million). Total inventories have depleted by -509 million barrels since early July 2020, the largest drawdown on record and a symptom of persistent under-supply:
EUROPE’s gas inventories have continued to accumulate later into the start of the traditional winter heating season than any other year in records dating back to 2011. Gas inventories in the European Union and the United Kingdom (EU28) were still rising on November 13, later than the previous record of November 12 in 2011 and far past the median peak occurring on October 26. The late fill is attributable to a combination of warmer-than-normal temperatures and high prices rationing consumption. Late fill is lifting inventories close to a record high and reducing the probability stocks will fall critically low before the end of winter:
GREAT BRITAIN’s maximum winter loads on the transmission system since 1990/91 are illustrated in the chart below (loads exclude Northern Ireland which has its own electricity network). Loads shown are “triads” – the three highest half-hourly loads separated by at least 10 days occurring each winter between November and February. Triads are used to set transmission network use of system (TNUoS) charges for large electricity consumers who are metered on a half-hourly basis. Triads are declared retrospectively after the end of each winter in March (“What are electricity triads?” National Grid, 2018).
Half-hourly (HH) customers are billed for TNUoS based on the amount of electricity they use during the three triad half-hours. Triads set charges for the entire year. In the limit, if a HH consumer uses no electricity from the grid during those three half hour periods, their TNUoS is set at zero for the entire year. The possibility a triad might be declared gives HH customers a strong incentive to minimise electricity use and/or generate their own power during periods when the total load on the network is expected to be very high.
Triad charging helps reduce strain on the grid during the winter peak, usually between 1630 GMT and 1800 GMT, when street lighting comes on, families start preparing the evening meal, but many shops and offices are still open and occupied. Several consultancies offer triad forecasting services – alerting HH consumers when there is an elevated risk that a triad could occur so they can reduce their net load temporarily.
In winter 2021/22, triads occurred on Thursday December 2 (43.7 GW at 1630-1700 GMT); Wednesday January 5 (42.8 GW at 1700-1730 GMT); and Thursday January 20 (43.5 GW at 1700-1730 GMT) (“Triads 2021/22”, National Grid, March 29, 2022).
Triad loads have been declining since 2007/08, and especially since 2010/11, as a result of improvements in energy efficiency, sluggish economic growth, changes in the industrial mix, and an increase in self-generation by HH consumers as well as embedded generation from solar panels added to homes, offices and local distribution networks:
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. INTEREST RATE TRADERS expect the Federal Reserve to raise its federal funds target for longer to peak at a higher level and sustain them at a higher rate than before, following a warning by the central bank’s chief. Policy-controlled interest rates are expected to continue rising until they peak at 5.00-5.25% in May 2023, up from 3.75-4.00% at present, and still be at 4.00-4.25% at the end of 2024:
U.S. PETROLEUM INVENTORIES including the strategic reserve fell by -3 million barrels in the week to October 28. Stocks have depleted in 90 of the last 122 weeks by a total of -494 million barrels since the start of July 2020:
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 maturing benchmark gas futures contract for November is falling rapidly as storage becomes full and the weather is forecast to remain mild. Prices for November delivery slipped to €99 per megawatt-hour (MWh) on October 24 down from €200 a month earlier. Mid-winter prices for January have remained higher at €143 compared with €200 a month ago. The extreme contango is symptomatic of storage becoming nearly full and the need to encourage more consumption by power generators and consumers in the short term, while concerns persist about availability in the middle and later stages of winter:
MIDDLE DISTILLATES (focusing here on diesel and gas oil but excluding kerosene and jet fuel) are the most cyclically sensitive part of the oil market. If there is a global economic slowdown in 2023 it will hit distillate consumption hardest. Conversely, if distillate shortages ease it must come about through a slowdown in global growth:
EUROPEAN GAS PRICES are softening throughout the remainder of 2022 and 2023 in response to a near-record refill season, high gas inventories, warmer than average weather forecasts for the first part of winter, and the prospect of reduced consumption from energy-intensive industries: