Best in Energy – 4 January 2023

Duke’s insufficient generation during storm ($BBG)¹

China issues more export quotas for fuels

Japan gas suppliers seek overseas resources

India to compensate coal-fired generators

Saudi Arabia’s sovereign wealth fund ($WSJ)

U.K. steel makers seek another bailout ($FT)

China/Australia discuss end of coal boycott ($BBG)

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:

Best in Energy – 7 December 2022

G7/Russia oil price cap evolution

China relaxes epidemic controls

India to purchase more gas for power generation

North Carolina’s 3rd day of blackouts after sabotage

Russia/China gas pipeline enters service (trans.)

Russian oil tanker spoofs position signal ($FT)

Russian oil tanker spoofs AIS maritime signals

London’s last great killer smog this week in 1952

BRENT calendar spreads slipped into contango yesterday through May 2023. The combined six-month spread moved into contango for the first time (outside the month-end expiry process when prices and spreads are unrepresentative) for the first time since November 2020, before the first successful coronavirus vaccines were announced:

LONDON is experiencing a period of unusually low temperatures this week, exactly 70 years after similar conditions between December 5 and December 9, 1952, caused the “Great Smog” resulting in 4,000 excess deaths. As temperatures dropped to freezing, domestic and commercial coal combustion surged, sending thousands of tonnes of particulates into the air over the city. A temperature inversion trapped smoke in low-lying areas along the Thames, between the hills surrounding the metropolitan area. For four days and nights, the metropolitan area was blanketed with a suffocating mixture of fog and smoke. The map below shows areas with the worst pollution, which were also the areas with the highest excess mortality:

Best in Energy – 6 December 2022

Renewables deployment accelerated by energy crisis

North Carolina substations in sophisticated sabotage

Oil tankers in queue to transit Turkish straits ($FT)

France prepares for tight power supplies next week

New England grid outlines winter reliability plan

EU retail sales fall with economy in recession ($WSJ)

EU plan for gas price cap distracts from real problem

U.S. jet fuel consumption below pre-pandemic level

BRENT’s six-month calendar spread has collapsed to a backwardation of just 67 cents per barrel (54th percentile for all trading days since 1990) from $8 (98th percentile) at the start of November. Month-to-month spreads are flat through April 2023. Traders anticipate crude supplies will remain comfortable through the first few months of next year because: (a) the EU/G7 price cap on Russia’s exports was set at a relatively high level; (b) policymakers have signalled a relaxed approach to enforcement (c) refiners have boosted purchases and inventories ahead of the price cap’s introduction; and (d) the slowing global economy is expected to dampen oil consumption: