BRENT’s six-month calendar spread fell to a backwardation of just over $2 per barrel on November 23, down from almost $9 a month earlier, and a high of almost $22 in early March, shortly after Russia invaded Ukraine. The spread has been easing consistently for a month and has fallen to its lowest level since December 2021. The business cycle downturn is expected to offset production restraint by OPEC⁺ and U.S. shale firms while traders anticipate Russia’s oil exports will continue flowing despite sanctions and the planned price cap:
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:
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:
BRENT spot prices and calendar spreads are retreating as traders anticipate the market will be balanced or over-supplied in 2023, after having been under-supplied continuously since the middle of 202o. Business cycle downturns across Europe, Asia and North America are expected to reduce oil consumption absolutely or relative to trend, helping rebuild depleted inventories:
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:
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:
Japan appeals for winter electricity conservation ($BBG)
U.S. EAST COAST distillate fuel oil inventories were just 24 million barrels on October 21, compared with a pre-pandemic five-year seasonal average of 50 million barrels. The East Coast deficit (-26 million bbl) accounted for nearly all the nationwide deficit (-29 million bbl):
WESTERN EUROPE’s gas consumptionwas down in August and September by 14-15% compared with the pre-pandemic seasonal average for 2015-2019, as a result of high prices, industrial closures, a slowing economy, and energy conservation measures:
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: