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. MANUFACTURERS reported business activity declined in February for the fourth month running. The ISM composite activity index was 47.7 in February up marginally from 47.4 in January but both readings were in only the 16th percentile for all months since 1980. New orders fell for the sixth month in a row. The new orders sub-index (47.0) was in only the 14th percentile for all months since 1980:
U.S. DISTILLATE inventories were unchanged over the seven days ending on February 24. Stocks were -14 million barrels (-11% or -0.87 standard deviations) below the prior ten-year seasonal average but the deficit has narrowed from -31 million barrels (-22% or -2.5 standard deviations) on October 7:
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:
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:
U.S. CRUDE OIL including condensates production fell by -35,000 b/d to 12.38 million b/d in November compared with October. But production was up by +585,000 b/d (+5.0%) compared with the same month a year earlier. Annual growth levelled off at around +600,000 b/d for most of 2022:
CHINA imported 508 million tonnes of crude oil in 2022, down from 513 million in 2021 and 542 million in 2020, according to preliminary data from the General Administration of Customs. Slower imports as the country grappled with intermittent lockdowns eased pressure on global petroleum supplies. But the economy’s re-opening is likely to boost crude imports and tighten the market in 2023:
¹ Running a “test” of the cold-start process at Drax on December 16 just four days after the coal-fired power plant received instructions (subsequently cancelled) to light up and prepare to generate for “real” on December 12 to help with insufficient reserve margins is interesting timing.
U.S. DISTILLATE inventories increased by +1 million barrels to 120 million barrels over the seven days ending on December 9. Stocks are still -16 million barrels (-12%, -0.79 standard deviations) below the pre-pandemic five-year average, but the deficit has halved from -34 million barrels (-24%, -2.05 standard deviations) on October 7. The biggest seasonal inventory accumulation for at least two decades has erased a large part of the previous shortage:
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:
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: