Best in Energy – 5 August 2022

Saudi/UAE save spare capacity for emergency

EU fills gas storage but ten times normal cost

EU explores gas-to-fuel oil switching ($BBG)

GLOBAL FOOD PRICES fell for the fourth month running in July, according to the UN Food and Agriculture Organization’s price index, but they are still +13% higher than in the same month in 2021:

U.S. INITIAL CLAIMS for unemployment insurance benefits are trending upward, with an average of 255,000 claims filed in the four weeks ending on July 29, up from 171,000 in the four weeks ending on April 1, indicating the job market has started to cool:

U.S. GAS INVENTORIES increased by +41 billion cubic feet last week and have risen by +1,075 bcf in total since the start of April. But stocks are still -377 bcf (-13%) below the pre-pandemic five-year average for 2015-2019 and show no sign of erasing the deficit:

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Best in Energy – 4 August 2022

OPEC+ raises output  by de minimis amount¹

Electricity transmission links undervalued

Freeport LNG to restart partially in October

Autos/semiconductors relationship

Automakers see weakening demand

¹ Higher oil production by Saudi Arabia and the other Gulf monarchies was briefed as one of the benefits from U.S. President Joe Biden’s visit to the region and “reset” of the relationship with Saudi Arabia last month. The tiny output increase of +100,000 b/d was the smallest that could be announced without appearing to snub the president completely. But it raises the question of what diplomatic benefits the president achieved from the trip – if not higher oil output did he secure some other objectives? Who advised the president to make this trip, within the administration and outside? Does the president ultimately see it as a success or a disappointment?

BRENT spot prices and calendar spreads have weakened consistently in recent weeks, a sign the recent upward price cycle has begun to break down. Prices and spreads are softening in response to the increased probability of a recession dampening oil consumption:

BRENT’s calendar spread from December 2022 to December 2023 has softened to a backwardation of $7.20 per barrel, down from $16.50 in early June, and close to its lowest levels since Russia invaded Ukraine in February. Traders are anticipating an imminent business cycle slowdown will relieve under-production in the oil market and stabilise inventory levels:

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Best in Energy – 2 August 2022

India starts rationing gas to industrial users

Australia grapples with pricing for domestic gas

Baker Hughes plan to sell Russia unit to insiders

Rosatom tightens grip on nuclear energy ($BBG)

China focuses on energy indigenisation (trans.)

U.S./Saudi visit: what did Biden achieve? ($BBG)

United Kingdom closes nuclear power generator

EU struggles to balance energy security and transition ($WSJ)

U.S./EU responses to energy security and transition challenges

U.S. MANUFACTURERS reported a further slight deceleration in growth last month, with the ISM purchasing managers’ index slipping to 52.8 in July (50th percentile for all months since 1980) from 53.0 in June (53rd percentile). New orders fell for the second month running, slightly faster in July (48.0, 14th percentile) than June (49.2, 17th percentile), implying business activity will slow further over the next few months:

U.S. DISTILLATE CONSUMPTION has begun to fall in line with the deceleration in manufacturing activity. The volume of distillate supplied was down -0.4% in March-May compared with the same period a year earlier. Distillates are the most cyclically sensitive part of the oil market, so the business cycle slowdown is filtering through into lower fuel use, part of the market rebalancing process:

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Best in Energy – 20 July 2022

EU asks member countries to cut gas consumption

EU countries most vulnerable to Russian gas cut off

(see also IMF working paper on gas shut off impact)

EU/Russia sanctions eased on food-related exports

Electric-vehicle charger market is growing rapidly

Bangladesh to start rationing electricity and gasoline

China boosts oil imports from Russia at Saudi expense

LONDON’s brief but exceptional heatwave has already ended, but 24-hour temperatures on both July 18 (27.3°C) and July 19 (27.4°C) were more than +8°C above the long-term seasonal average, straining transportation infrastructure and the electrical network.

In a normal year, London temperatures peak between July 20 and August 5, the result of seasonal lag. But weather conditions this year coincided with and compounded the normal seasonal peak pushing daily temperatures far above normal. Temperatures on both days were 2.2-2.6 standard deviations above the 2013-2021 average:

U.S REAL AVERAGE WEEKLY EARNINGS were down by almost -4.5% in June 2022 compared with June 2021, as inflation outstripped wage increases, underscoring the intensity of the squeeze on incomes and spending power:

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Best in Energy – 15 July 2022

White House downplays hopes for more oil

Middle East imports more Russian fuel oil

Japan plans reactor restarts before the winter

United Kingdom heads for winter crisis ($BBG)

Germany is moving into a recession ($BBG)

ERCOT confident will avoid blackout ($BBG)

U.S. household finances and inflation ($WSJ)

Russia/NATO conflict is test of resolve ($BBG)

Central banks turn hawkish on inflation

U.S. CENTRAL BANK is expected to raise short-term interest rates to 3.50-3.75% by February 2023 up from 1.50-1.75% at present to curb inflation. From the second quarter of 2023, however, policymakers are expected to start reducing interest rates as the economy slows and inflation decelerates:

U.S INTEREST RATE traders anticipate a recession has become virtually certain following the continued acceleration of inflation. The yield curve spread between 2-year and 10-year maturities is now in the 98th percentile for all months since 1990:

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Best in Energy – 11 July 2022

Saudi Arabia’s oil production capacity scrutinised

Canada to return Nord Stream impounded turbine

Ocean carriers likely to revert to slow steaming

India rejects US/EU calls to boycott Russian oil

France plans for complete loss of Russian gas

France prepares to switch from gas to fuel oil

Freight rates start to soften as volume falls ($WSJ)

U.S. central bank tries to avoid stop-go policy ($WSJ)

U.K. businesses prepare for onset of recession ($FT)

China boosts coal by rail deliveries by +9% (trans.)

Texas appeals for electricity conservation on July 11

U.S. BUSINESS inventory ratios have started to climb as sales slow and firms struggle to shift extra items ordered on a precautionary basis at the height of the supply-chain crisis. Manufacturers, wholesalers and retailers held inventories equivalent to 1.29 months worth of sales in April up from a cyclical low of 1.26 months in November. Excess stocks are concentrated at the retail level where the ratio has climbed to 1.18 months up from 1.09 months in October 2021.

U.S. inventory ratios remain low by pre-pandemic standards but will climb quickly if sales slow further in response to rapid inflation and a business cycle downturn. Inventory reduction is likely to weigh on economic growth over the next six months as businesses to limit or reverse overstocking:

TEXAS temperatures have climbed well above the long-term seasonal average since the start of July increasing the strain on the state’s isolated electric grid. Cumulative cooling degree days since the start of the year have been almost +30% higher than the 1981-2010 average:

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Best in Energy – 7 July 2022

EU parliament adds gas and nuclear to green energy list

France to renationalise nuclear power generator EdF

Aramco raises official selling prices as oil futures fall

Oil price falls not yet justified by recession risk ($BBG)

China tax reductions hit $385 billion in Jan-June (trans.)

China plans to boost car sales after lockdown hit ($BBG)

United States intensifies sanctions enforcement on Iran

PRIOR to this week’s sharp drop in oil prices, hedge fund positioning was not showing the congestion that often signals an imminent reversal in the price trend:

HEDGE FUND positions in crude were below average in both Brent and WTI (36-37th percentile). The ratio of long to short positions showed a bullish bias but not excessively so (65-66th percentile):

HEDGE FUND managers showed no sign of preparing for a sharp fall in oil prices – with the number of short positions close to multi-year lows:

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Best in Energy – 29 June 2022

Aramco’s disputed maximum output capacity ($BBG)

Copper prices fall to 16-month low on recession fears

G7 leaders try to design a price cap for Russia oil ($FT)

G7 officials negotiate price cap with India and China

Murban front-month spread at record $9/bbl ($BBG)

U.K. plans to halt gas flows to Europe in a crisis ($FT)

China’s northern drought and southern floods (trans.)

U.S. energy and employment in 2021

U.S. FINANCIAL CONDITIONS are tightening at the fastest rate for more than 40 years, according to the Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco (“Policy nimbleness through forward guidance”, FRBSF, June 28):

LONDON’s coal market in the late 1830s and early 1840s saw the last and most ambitious in a long line of attempts to restrict supply to keep up prices. The volume of coal sold each day on the city’s coal exchange was linked to prevailing prices on a sliding scale. If prices rose, more coal was sold. If prices fell, a smaller volume was offered for sale. An example of the sliding scale from February 1837 is reproduced below. The “limitation of the vend” was managed by the London coal factors acting on behalf of and in conjunction with the coal mine owners of the Northeast.

The system was possible because cargoes of coal carried by ship from the Northeast to the Port of London could only be sold and unloaded in strict order of arrival. Regulations enforced by the port authorities and the coal factors themselves required unsold and unloaded ships to wait their turn in the lower reaches of the river. Ships could only proceed to the “legal quays” or for lightering from midriver in the Pool of London once the factors had arranged a sale and the city’s metering office (which measured and later weighed the cargos) had assigned a metering officer.

The coal owners were organised in a series of coal trade committees which forecast demand and allocated output among the mines. The London factors had their own society which managed the rules of the turn system, the market, and the sliding scale as well as reporting on market conditions and cheating efforts to the coal trade committees (“Sea coal for London”, Smith, 1961).

The “limitation of the vend” and the “turn” system eventually broke down in the early 1840s in the face of increased supply from new sources in the Northeast and other parts of the country. At the same time, increasing numbers of vessels avoided the costly wait for sale and unloading because they were delivering cargoes for the government or the rapidly growing gas-manufacturing companies. Instead of waiting for sale after arrival in the port, more and more cargoes were sold prior to arrival and in some cases even before loading in the Northeast.

Before the system collapsed, the queue of unsold and unloaded ships in the river, which could amount to hundreds of vessels at a time, stuck for days or even weeks at a time, rafted along both banks from London Bridge down to Greenwich, with more queued downriver in sections managed by the harbour master all the way to Gravesend, attracted adverse attention from consumers, the city government and parliament, especially at times of high and rising prices, triggering multiple enquiries into anticompetitive practices.

Half-hearted efforts to resurrect the system in the later 1840s and early 1850s were unsuccessful because the system of supplying coal by ship faced rapidly growing competition from the delivery of coal by the new railways to the metropolis. Rail deliveries were not covered by the ship-based system of waiting turn or the sliding scale. The rail network also opened up new inland sources of coal supply in Yorkshire, Durham and the Southwest to compete with the traditional producers in the Northeast, overwhelming efforts at market management.

Development and deployment of steam-powered coal ships rapidly displacing the traditional sailing ships from the early 1850s onwards also made a return to the turn system impossible. Steam-powered ships were faster, larger and needed fewer crew members so they were cheaper to operate. But they were also more capital intensive so their profitability depended on maximising time spent voyaging and minimising delays loading and unloading. Steam-driven ships could not afford to wait their turn for sale and unloading. Many were contracted to gas companies, which had always been exempt from the turn system, and often bought direct from the mine owners in the Northeast, bypassing the factors and the coal exchange. The rest usually voyaged with orders to sell immediately on reaching the port – or the cargo had already been sold before they were even loaded.

The limitation of the vend and the turn system is a fascinating case study in the how to make a cartel work and the problems that can cause it to break down, anticipating many of the practices and challenges faced by the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) and the wider group of exporters (OPEC+).

Rough procedure for sale of coal in London during the late 1830s and early 1840s under the limitation of the vend and turn system:

  • Coal Trade Committee of major mine owners in the Northeast of England forecasts coal demand;
  • Total coal production apportioned between mines according to quotas;
  • Coal mine owner sells coal to ship owner at the quayside in Northeast of England;
  • Ship owner conveys cargo down east coast to Thames Estuary;
  • Ship reports to Coal Factors’ Office at Gravesend;
  • Ship given turn number based on strict order of arrival;
  • Ship’s papers and cargo details expressed by steamer or horse to London;
  • Ship also reports to Harbour Master at Gravesend for section order;
  • Ship directed to one of seven sections in the Lower Thames between Northfleet and Blackwall to wait turn;
  • Cargoes for the government or for gas-manufacturing companies sent direct to unloading wharves, thereby avoiding turn keeping;
  • Cargo registered with both the Coal Exchange and with Metering/Weighing Office ;
  • Cargo entered into both the Sales Turn and the Metering Turn lists;
  • Ships can appeal to magistrate for immediate unloading on safety grounds;
  • Ships caught cheating sent to bottom of sales and/or metering lists;
  • Coal Factor appointed by coal mine owner files paperwork with Customs and Lord Mayor’s office and pays bond;
  • Cargo waits turn for sale with the number of cargoes sold each limited according to prevailing prices on a sliding scale;
  • Cargo sold on Coal Exchange by Factor to a professional First Buyer;
  • Coal Meter/Weigher appointed to measure the volume of cargo as unloaded;
  • Ship given permission to proceed upriver to the Lower Pool for unloading;
  • Unloading gang appointed by the owner of one of the local pubs*;
  • Metering officer and unloading gang actually unload cargo at specified minimum rate per day;
  • Payment terms: one-third cash, one-third in note payable in sixty days, one-third in four days after sale;
  • Coal Factor notifies coal mine owner of completion of sale in accordance with obligations;
  • Ships caught deviating from the system refused future cargoes by sellers in the Northeast;
  • Ship returns to the Northeast to collect next cargo;
  • Coal Factors Society sends regular report on market conditions to coal owners in the Coal Trade Committee.

* Not a joke. Gangs got hired on the understanding they would spend a large part of their earnings in the pub. There were 70 public houses between the Tower of London and Limehouse where men who wanted to work would assemble. “He who spent most at the public house had the greatest chance of work” (“London labour and the London poor”, Mayhew, 1851).

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Energy sanctions and the impact on prices for consumers

Four case studies from the coal and oil markets

John Kemp

10 June 2022

Conclusion: Energy embargoes increase prices paid by consumers significantly in the short and medium term unless there are alternative supplies readily available to make up the deficit.

Corollary: Boycotts are an attractive policy instrument when excess production capacity (actual or potential) allows energy from sanctioned sources to be replaced by non-sanctioned ones.

Case Study 1: Coal during the English Civil War (1643-1644)

By the mid-17th century, coal had replaced wood as the principal fuel for domestic heating and manufacturing in London and other towns near the east coast of England.

Production was concentrated in Newcastle and the northeast from where it was carried by ship down the coast to London and other major consumption centres in the south.

But in January 1643, Parliament, based in London, banned ships from fetching coal from Newcastle, under royalist control, to deprive King Charles I of revenues and shipping with which to wage war.

Parliament had been assured by Scotland’s coal owners sufficient alternative supplies would be forthcoming to make up the deficit, but this proved incorrect.

Wholesale prices in London doubled to 30-40 shillings per ton in 1643/44 from 15-16 shillings before the ban in 1640.

In response, Parliament and the Lord Mayor and Aldermen of the City of London attempted to fix maximum prices, but this was unsuccessful.

Parliament imposed a forced loan on ship owners and consumers of coal to raise funds for the capture of Newcastle, and the City imposed a levy to raise funds to provide coal for the poor.

“Profiteering continued, and there was seen to be no substitute for north of England coal,” according to historian John Nef.

In June 1644, the Venetian ambassador warned the loss of coal shipments “will be unbearable next winter, as they have felled most of the trees” around London to meet the shortage the previous winter.

In July 1644, the ambassador predicted “there will be riots this winter” unless coal shipments from Newcastle resumed.

The coal shortage was relieved when a Scottish army, encouraged by Parliament and promised income from future coal sales, captured Newcastle in October 1644 and shipments to London resumed.

Sources:

Rise of the British Coal Industry (Volume 2) (Nef, 1932)

Declaration of the Lords and Commons Concerning Coals and Salt (1642)

The English Coasting Trade 1600-1750 (Willan, 1967)

History of the British Coal Industry (Volume 1) (Hatcher, 1993)

Case Study 2: Oil during the Iranian embargo 1951-54

Following nationalisation of the Anglo-Iranian Oil Company in 1951, Britain boycotted crude and fuel sales from Iran, and was later joined by most other western-owned oil companies.

In 1950, Iran had produced 660,000 b/d of crude, amounting to 7% of total production in the Western World, of which 150,000 b/d were exported and 510,000 b/d processed at the Abadan refinery.

Abadan was the world’s largest refinery and supplied one-quarter of all the refined products outside the Western Hemisphere.

Nearly all output from Abadan was exported (489,000 b/d) with most of the rest accounted for by the refinery’s own consumption (20,000 b/d) and only small volumes used domestically (1,000 b/d).

The boycott’s impact on crude oil supplies and prices was limited because Iran’s crude oil exports were relatively small and easily replaced from other sources.

Crude production from other countries in the Middle East (Kuwait, Saudi Arabia and Iraq) had already  been increasing rapidly and accelerated further once the boycott was imposed.

Iran’s production declined by -31 million long tons between 1950 and 1952 but that was more than offset by increases from Kuwait (+20 million tons), Saudi Arabia (+15 million) and Iraq (+12 million).

There were also large increases in production in the rest of the world (+69 million tons) mostly from the Caribbean and the United States.

But the impact on refined fuel supplies especially aviation gasoline, kerosene and residual fuel oil east of Suez, was much more severe.

Lost output from Abadan had to be replaced by increased refinery processing in the United States and the Caribbean and to a smaller extent in Western Europe.

Much longer supply routes from western refineries to markets east of Suez strained available tanker capacity.

In response, tanker transport and foreign fuel marketing was coordinated by international oil companies with direction from the U.S. government.

“The Voluntary Agreement Relating to the Supply of Petroleum to Friendly Foreign Nations” was created by the U.S. government to permit the exchange of information and coordination of supplies.

Under the Voluntary Agreement, which conferred antitrust immunity, a Foreign Petroleum Supply Committee involving the international oil companies was organised to coordinate supplies.

During the boycott, the British-owned Anglo-Iranian Oil Company brought legal proceedings against oil buyers breaching the boycott for trafficking in stolen property.

Japanese companies were reported to have purchased Iranian oil at discounts of as much as 50% to the official price.

The boycott was eventually lifted in 1954 when the Anglo-Iranian Oil Company was replaced by an International Consortium, with the agreement of all parties.

Sources:

Oil in the Middle East: Discovery and Development (Longrigg, 1968)

Middle East Oil Crises and Western Europe’s Oil Supplies (Lubell, 1963)

Probable Developments in Iran through 1953 (NIE-75/1) (Central Intelligence Agency, 1953)

History of the British Petroleum Company (Volume 2) (Bamberg, 1994)

Case Study 3: Oil sanctions on Iraq 1990-1996

Following the invasion of Kuwait in 1990, the United Nations imposed a comprehensive economic embargo on Iraq (Security Council Resolution 661) including a prohibition on oil sales.

Iraq’s production declined by -90% from 2.8 million b/d prior to the invasion to 280,000 b/d in 1991 and remained stuck around 500,000 b/d until the oil-for-food program was launched in late 1996.

Initially, the loss of output from Iraq (-2.6 million b/d) and occupied Kuwait (-1.4 million b/d) caused real oil prices to more than double between June and September 1990.

But following the release of IEA strategic petroleum reserves and the successful expulsion of Iraqi forces from Kuwait, prices had roughly reverted to pre-invasion levels by March 1991.

Other Middle East producers proved willing and able to increase their production to offset the losses from Iraq and Kuwait and later from Iraq-only under sanctions.

Iraq’s output fell by -2.3 million b/d between 1989 and 1996 but that was more than offset by output from other producers in the Middle East which increased by +6.6 million b/d over the same period.

Total Middle East production increased by +4.3 million b/d between 1989 and 1996 and global output was up by +5.7 million b/d, despite sanctions on Iraq, minimising the impact on prices.

As a result, the period of most intense sanctions on Iraq during the early and mid-1990s was characterised by relatively low and stable prices for consumers.

Sources:

Statistical Review of World Energy (BP, 2021)

Case Study 4: Oil sanctions on Iran 2012-2015 and since 2018

The United States has imposed multiple rounds of  sanctions on Iran since the revolution of 1979 but the most intense restrictions on oil exports were in force between 2012 and 2015 (when sanctions were also imposed by the European Union) and since 2018 (when the United States terminated its participation in the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action).

During the most intense period of sanctions, Iran’s oil exports were reduced by up to -1.4 million barrels per day, according to estimates compiled by the U.S. Congressional Research Service.

The sanctions-driven reduction in Iranian exports (actual and prospective) likely contributed to the period of very high prices between 2011 and 2014 and more moderately in 2018.

Real Brent prices averaged $120 between 2011 and 2014, the highest in the history of the oil industry, and were also comparatively high in 2018 compared with 2015-2017 and 2019.

But sanctions on Iran also coincided with the first and second shale drilling booms in the United States which resulted in very rapid growth in U.S. oil production.

U.S. oil production increased by an average of +1 million b/d each year between 2012 and 2014 and by an average of almost +1.5 million b/d each year in 2018 and 2019.

Rapid growth in U.S. production likely emboldened U.S. policymakers to impose stringent sanctions on Iran as well as blunting their impact on prices.

The entire period spanned by sanctions since 2011 also saw very large increases in output from other producers in the Middle East.

Between 2011 and 2019, production increased in Iraq (+2.0 million b/d), Saudi Arabia (+0.8 million b/d) and the United Arab Emirates (+0.7 million b/d) more than offsetting losses from Iran.

Knowing alternative supplies were available, including from domestic producers, likely encouraged the Obama and Trump administrations to pursue more stringent restrictions on Iran’s oil exports.

Stringent sanctions on Iran contributed to high prices for consumers but the impact was moderated over time by growing output from other Middle East producers and especially the U.S. shale industry.

Sanctions on Iran were an important spur for the shale revolution; conversely, the shale boom and reintegration of Iraq into global markets helps explains the severity of U.S. and international sanctions.

Sources:

Iran sanctions – Report for Congress (U.S. Congressional Research Service, 2022)

Statistical Review of World Energy (BP, 2021)