SINGAPORE distillate inventories have started to rise from multi-decade lows set in the final months of 2022:
U.S. PETROLEUM INVENTORIES depleted by -10 million barrels over the week ending on March 17, the largest drawdown since the end of 2022. Draws in gasoline (-6 million barrels), distillate fuel oil (-3 million) and propane/propylene (-2 million) more than offset a small build in crude (+1 million):
CHINA’s manufacturers reported the most widespread rise in business activity for over a decade as the economy rebounded after the end of coronavirus lockdowns and the passing of the epidemic’s exit wave. The official purchasing managers’ index surged to 52.6 in February, the highest since April 2012, and up from just 50.1 in January 2023 and 47.0 in December 2022. The index was in the 96th percentile for all months since 2011 pointing to a very broad upturn in activity:
NORTHWEST EUROPE is more than three-quarters of the way through the heating season. Frankfurt in Germany has experienced 1,377 heating degree days so far this winter compared with a long-term seasonal average of 1,673, a deficit of almost 18%, reducing heating demand and easing the pressure on gas inventories and prices:
BRENT’s front-month futures price has fallen to $82 per barrel down from a high of $127 at the end of May 2022, after adjusting for inflation. But is that still fairly high or already below the long-term average? It depends whether or not the comparison includes the long period of low prices in the 1990s. In real terms, $82 is in the 65th percentile for all months since 1990, still fairly high. But if the 1990s are excluded, prices are in the 42nd percentile for all months since 2000 and the 48th percentile for all months since 2010, already in the lower half of the distribution:
U.S. PETROLEUM INVENTORIES including the strategic reserve surged by +19 million barrels in the seven days ending on February 10. There was a huge accumulation in reported stocks of crude (+16 million barrels) with smaller increases in gasoline (+2 million) and jet fuel (+1 million) partly offset by a drawdown in distillate fuel oil (-1 million).
Total inventories were still -243 million barrels (-13% or -2.26 standard deviations) below the prior ten-year seasonal average. But stocks have been trending higher since late December and the deficit to the seasonal average is staring to narrow:
U.S. INTEREST RATE traders expect the central bank to increase its target fed funds rate by two more quarter-points before July 2023 reaching 5.00-5.25% up from 4.50-4.75% at present. The forecast has increased by a quarter-point following stronger than expected employment data for January. The interest rate path has been repeatedly revised upward over the last year as inflationary pressures have proved more persistent than expected:
LONDON’s Heathrow airport handled 109,151 metric tonnes of air cargo in December 2022 down by -14% compared with 127,188 metric tonnes in December 2021. Air freight volumes are slackening as the global manufacturing sector enters a downturn, with the United Kingdom one of the hardest-hit economies:
INDIA’s coal stocks at power plants remain low for the time of year at just 12 days of consumption, up from 9 at the same point in 2022, but down from 18 in 2021 and 19 in 2020. There is a risk inventories could deplete to critical levels in the event of a pre- or post-monsoon heatwave or other pressure on the electricity system, which explains why the government has instructed power producers to increase coal imports:
EUROPE’s gas inventories are rapidly nearing a record high for the time of year following warmer than normal temperatures and reductions in industrial consumption. EU28 inventories were 937 TWh on January 9 closing in on the seasonal record of 944 TWh set in winter 2019/20.
Stocks were +247 TWh (+36% or +2.37 standard deviations) above the prior ten-year seasonal average up from a surplus of +92 TWh (+10% or +0.86 standard deviations) at the start of the winter season on October 1. The storage surplus is still increasing.
Inventories are projected to reach a post-winter low of 591 TWh with a probable range of 460 TWh to 749 TWh. If that proves correct, storage facilities would end the winter 52% full, with a likely range from 41% to as much as 66%:
U.S. GAS front-month futures prices have slumped to less than $3.80 per million British thermal units (34th percentile for all months since 1990) from more than $9.10 (86th percentile) at the end of August. Figures have been adjusted for inflation using the core consumer price index for all items excluding food and energy:
¹ Failure of coal and gas-fired generators to start up when instructed by the grid because of instrument and equipment freezes has been a recurrent problem and major cause of power failures during extreme cold weather episodes in the last several decades. Failure to start has meant actual generation available has been much lower than forecast, reducing reserve margins and forcing rotating blackouts to restore margins to safe levels.
THE FUNDAMENTALS of commodity trading have not changed in 2500 years, illustrated by this quote about China’s commodity merchants taken from the Guan Zi, which purports to be a dialogue between Lord Huan of Qi and his powerful chief minister Guan Zhong in the Spring and Autumnperiod (771-481 BCE) but probably a compilation of traditional knowledge written during the Warring States period (481-221 BCE):
“Merchants observe outbreaks of dearth and starvation, scrutinize changes in the fortunes of states, study the patterns of the four seasons, and take notice of what goods are produced in each place. With this knowledge of prices in the marketplace, they gather up their stock of goods, load them on oxcarts and horses, and circulate throughout the four directions. Having reckoned what is abundant and what is scarce and calculated what is precious and what is worthless, they exchange what they possess for what they lack, buying cheap and selling dear … Marvellous and fantastic things arrive in timely fashion; rare and unusual goods readily gather. Day and night thus engaged, merchants tutor their sons and brothers, speaking the language of profit, teaching them the virtue of timeliness, and training them how to recognise the value of goods.”
Guan Zi: Political, Economic and Philosophical Essays from Early China (Rickett, 1985) cited in The Economic History of China: From Antiquity to the Nineteenth Century (von Glahn, 2016)
EUROPE’s gas prices are falling and the futures curve has shifted into contango as inventories remain very high for the time of year and traders no longer anticipate any risk of a shortage before the end of winter 2022/23. The end-of-winter March-April 2023 calendar spread is trading in a contango of more than €1.20/MWh down from a backwardation of €9.70 at the end of September: