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 $87 per barrel is in the 54th percentile for all months since 2010 and the 47th percentile for all months since 2000:
BRENT spot prices and calendar spreads are retreating as traders anticipate the market will be balanced or over-supplied in 2023, after having been under-supplied continuously since the middle of 202o. Business cycle downturns across Europe, Asia and North America are expected to reduce oil consumption absolutely or relative to trend, helping rebuild depleted inventories:
¹ The Politburo Standing Committee special study session on epidemic control is top news across all government-controlled media. Reverse engineering the official commentary, top leaders seem anxious to counter political and social fatigue with repeated lockdowns, reinforcing the current zero-covid strategy in the short term despite its rising costs, while also searching for a way out via improved vaccination rates and the development of new vaccines and therapeutic drugs.
U.S. SERVICE SECTOR prices increased at an annualised rate of +7.8% in the three months to October, more than three times faster than the central bank’s target, ensuring that interest rates are likely to continue rising:
BRITAIN’s economy entered a recession during the third quarter with real gross domestic product declining in three out of four months between June and September. So far the downturn has been led by manufacturing but is likely to spread to construction and services:
LONDON’s temperatures have been higher than the long-term seasonal average consistently since the middle of October, reducing heating demand and gas consumption. The number of heating degree days so far this winter has reached just 117 compared with a long-term average of 153. But the city-region is only 10% of the way through the expected heating season. The half-way point doesn’t normally arrive until January 23 as a result of seasonal lag:
China explores gradual retreat from lockdowns ($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:
EUROZONE manufacturers report the sector has entered recession, based on preliminary results from the monthly purchasing managers survey. Partial results show the manufacturing activity index slipped to just 46.6 in October (14th percentile for all months since 2006) from 48.4 in September (24th percentile):
EUROPE’s temperatures are expected to be at or above the long-term seasonal average during the three months from November to January, according to the European Centre for Medium-Range Weather Forecasting. Mild temperatures through October and the relatively warm outlook for the first part of the winter have contributed to downward pressure on the region’s gas futures prices:
U.S. PETROLEUM INVENTORIES including the strategic reserve fell by -6 million bbl last week. Petroleum inventories have depleted in 88 of the last 120 weeks by a total of -486 million bbl since the start of July 2020:
U.S. DISTILLATE FUEL OIL inventories have fallen in 70 of the last 120 weeks by a total of -71 million bbl since July 2020. Stocks are at the lowest seasonal level since the U.S. Energy Information Administration began publishing weekly data in 1982:
¹ Like any cartel, OPEC+ uses a set of production baselines so total group supply can be adjusted in response to changes in market demand while ensuring each member retains a fair pro rata share. Like other cartels, the baselines used by OPEC+ do not necessarily correspond to shares in actual production or capacity in the real world. Cartels often find it very difficult to reach unanimous agreement to change baselines and shares. So in most cases they end up using baselines that have some historical basis but have become out of date.
Between the 1600s and 1800s, England’s Newcastle coal cartel (known as “the limitation of the vend”) allocated larger shares to some mines than they could actually supply. Some of the older, smaller or higher-cost mines had not been able to grow output fast enough to maintain their traditional market shares. But it was easier to keep the baselines and adjust allocations up and down in line with changing market demand than to renegotiate them. OPEC+ has often faced the same problem.
For both the Newcastle coal cartel and OPEC+, total allocations were often above total supply, ensuring changes in notional allocations were normally greater than changes in actual production.
OPEC+ frames its decisions in terms of adjustments to total and individual allocations, not production. The actual change in production is often different. In this case, many OPEC+ countries have been unable to utilise their allocations fully because they have insufficient capacity. These members will not be required to reduce their actual production since it was already well under quota. The actual fall in production is therefore likely to be much smaller than the reduction in the notional allocations.
The difference between production and notional allocations has been a persistent problem in the oil market. OPEC+ decisions are usually reported as “changes in production” when they should be reported as “changes in allocations”. It may seem a harmless simplification but it is deeply misleading.
Sometimes, however, the misdirection is intentional. It allows OPEC+ to announce a large headline increase or decrease, and use it to generate a desired market or diplomatic reaction, even though the actual change in production is much smaller.
But it is more technically accurate and analytically useful to report OPEC+ decisions in terms of production allocations and then report changes in actual production separately.
U.S. PETROLEUM INVENTORIES fell by -16 million bbl in the week to September 30. There were reductions in crude (-8 million), gasoline (-5 million), distillate fuel oil (-3 million) and jet fuel (-1 million). Total inventories have depleted by -480 million bbl since the start of July 2020 and are now at the lowest seasonal level since 2004:
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