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 $87 per barrel is in the 54th percentile for all months since 2010 and the 47th percentile for all months since 2000:
BRENT spot prices and calendar spreads are retreating as traders anticipate the market will be balanced or over-supplied in 2023, after having been under-supplied continuously since the middle of 202o. Business cycle downturns across Europe, Asia and North America are expected to reduce oil consumption absolutely or relative to trend, helping rebuild depleted inventories:
¹ Food and energy shortages have always been about prices and affordability rather than physical supplies and availability. Higher-income and wealthier households will always find ways to put food on the table and heat their homes, it is lower-income and poorer households that lack financial resources that are unable to cope and hit hardest (“Corn supply of ancient Rome”, Rickman, 1980).
SOUTHERN CALIFORNIA’s ports are experiencing a sharp drop in container traffic reflecting contentious labour negotiations and the threat of a strike as well as the slowdown in global merchandise trade and efforts by U.S. manufacturers and distributors to cut excess inventories. Combined container traffic through the neighbouring ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach was just 0.84 million twenty-foot equivalent units (TEUs) in October, down from 1.07 million TEUs in the same month in 2021, and the lowest for the time of year since the recession of 2009:
LONDON’s temperatures have been higher than the long-term seasonal average consistently since the middle of October, reducing heating demand and gas consumption. The number of heating degree days so far this winter has reached just 117 compared with a long-term average of 153. But the city-region is only 10% of the way through the expected heating season. The half-way point doesn’t normally arrive until January 23 as a result of seasonal lag:
China explores gradual retreat from lockdowns ($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:
WESTERN EUROPE’s temperatures are expected to be above average for the time of year through December, according to the European Centre for Medium-Range Weather Forecasting, which would reduce heating demand and ease pressure on gas and electricity supplies:
U.S. EMPLOYMENT has been growing faster than would have been expected based on output growth alone. The discrepancy between rapid job gains and slower growth in real gross domestic product is evident whether jobs are measured from the employer side (payrolls) or employee side (household surveys). If historical relationships reassert themselves, job gains are likely to slow or output growth will accelerate:
U.S. EMPLOYMENT in the transportation and warehousing super-sector has been flat since June after growing rapidly for two years following the first wave of the pandemic. The number of jobs in the sector has levelled off around 6.5 million up from 5.8 million before the arrival of the pandemic in the first quarter of 2020:
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:
¹ This article seems to be merging the related but separate concepts of rotating power cuts to cope with possible electricity shortages caused by insufficient gas-fired and renewable generation this winter with restarting the grid after a total failure such as might be caused by an accident or sabotage.
“Yarrow” sounds like a plan for a “black start” of generation, transmission and distribution systems following complete failure. Electricity network managers in the United Kingdom and other countries have planned for a black start for decades. It is one of those remote “high impact low probability” risks commonly used in scenario planning.
The United Kingdom has never had to undertake a nationwide black start though a regional one was necessary in parts of the southeast following damage caused by the Great Storm of October 1987.
Black starts involve a complicated series of steps and would take several days to complete. Designated generating units would have to be started up autonomously, following by limited energisation of the transmission grid, first regionally and then nationally.
Black start sites often have auxiliary diesel-fired generators maintained at a high state of readiness that can restart without external power. The auxiliary generator is then used to start one or more main generators (usually oil, coal or gas-fired) on the same site which are then reconnected to the grid.
Progressively more generators would be started up and synchronised to the network, which would start to provide limited power to the local distribution systems. Protected sites would start to receive power and then more customers as sufficient power becomes available.
The process could take up to 5-7 days in the event of total failure. In the meantime most customers would receive no power or be subject to rotating power cuts to limit demand while generation is restored gradually.
The complexity and time needed for a full black start explains why grid managers attempt to avoid them at all costs. Temporary but controlled load-shedding directed by grid managers is preferable to uncontrolled cascading failure of the power grid leading to collapse and forcing a black start.
Black start should be a very remote risk in a well-run grid. But the sabotage of the Nord Stream pipelines has focused attention on the risks of deliberate attacks on energy infrastructure and will make black start a higher priority for emergency planners.
EUROZONE manufacturers reported an accelerating decline in activity last month as the region’s economy was hit by inflation, soaring energy prices, supply chain problems, Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and the EU sanctions imposed in response. The composite purchasing managers’ index slipped to 46.2 in October (12th percentile for all months since 2006) from 48.4 in September (24th percentile) and 58.3 in October 2021 (92nd percentile). The composite index has been below the 50-point threshold dividing expanding activity from a contraction for four months running, confirming the zone’s economy is entering a recession:
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: