U.S. CONTAINER PORTS handled loaded boxes amounting to 2.24 million twenty-foot equivalent units (TEUs) in February 2023, down from 2.77 million TEUs in February 2022, and the lowest for the time of year since 2015. Businesses are still trying to reduce excess inventories as a result of the pivot from spending on merchandise to services following the lifting of epidemic controls, as well as the general slowdown in the business cycle:
U.S./China struggle to stabilise relationship ($WSJ)
U.S. CENTRAL BANK chief Jerome Powell toughened his rhetoric on core inflation during congressional testimony, sending forecasts for interest rates surging higher on March 7. Rate traders expected interest rates to end 2023 at around 5.55% up from a forecast of 5.38% on March 6:
SINGAPORE distillate inventories remain at their lowest level for the time of year since 2008. Stocks are -4 million barrels (-36% or -1.91 standard deviations) below the prior ten-year seasonal average. The deficit has only narrowed slightly from six months ago when it was -4 million barrels (-34% or -2.21 standard deviations):
U.S. INTEREST RATE traders continue to boost their expectations for benchmark short rates at the end of the year as the central bank signals rates may have to go higher and stay there for longer to bring inflation back to target. Rates are now expected to be around 5.25-5.50% in December 2023 up from an expectation of 4.25-4.50% at the start of February:
COMMITMENT OF TRADERS reports – the U.S. Commodity Futures Trading Commission (CFTC) and ICE Futures Europe suspended publication of their commitments of traders reports in late January following a ransomware attack on a major market participant and infrastructure provider which resulted in incomplete submissions. Both are now starting to catch up with the backlog of missed weekly reports. ICE has caught up; the CFTC is still some weeks behind. I am not going to publish a weekly analysis again until they have both caught up fully since the reports now contain very out of date information. For reference, however, the hedge fund and money manager positions on February 7, the most recent currently available, are shown below:
EUROPE’s gas futures prices continue to slide despite a blast of colder weather across the northwest this week reflecting the high level of inventories. Front-month futures prices closed below €45 per megawatt-hour on March 3 for the first time since August 2021:
U.S. NON-MANUFACTURING firms reported a solid increase in activity in February. The ISM non-manufacturing index stood at 55.1 (40th percentile for all months since 1997) in February, little changed from January, but up from 49.2 (7th percentile) in December. The low December reading is starting to look like an anomaly. Service providers and other non-manufacturing businesses are reporting healthier conditions than their counterparts in manufacturing and freight:
U.S. OIL DRILLING activity continued to decelerate with the number of active rigs down -8 to 592 over the week ending on March 3. The oil-directed rig count has fallen in 10 of the last 13 weeks by a total of 35 rigs (-6%):
CHINA’s manufacturers reported the most widespread rise in business activity for over a decade as the economy rebounded after the end of coronavirus lockdowns and the passing of the epidemic’s exit wave. The official purchasing managers’ index surged to 52.6 in February, the highest since April 2012, and up from just 50.1 in January 2023 and 47.0 in December 2022. The index was in the 96th percentile for all months since 2011 pointing to a very broad upturn in activity:
NORTHWEST EUROPE is more than three-quarters of the way through the heating season. Frankfurt in Germany has experienced 1,377 heating degree days so far this winter compared with a long-term seasonal average of 1,673, a deficit of almost 18%, reducing heating demand and easing the pressure on gas inventories and prices:
U.S. OIL AND GAS drilling rigs fell by -7 last week to 753. The number of active rigs has fallen in five of the last eight weeks and is at the lowest since the start of July 2022. The upturn that started in August 2020 after the first wave of the pandemic has at least paused and possibly ended as drilling rates slide in response to lower oil and gas prices:
U.S. PETROLEUM INVENTORIES including the strategic reserve rose by +3 million barrels over the seven days ending on February 17. Increased inventories of commercial crude (+8 million), distillate fuel oil (+3 million) and jet fuel (+1 million) were partly offset by reductions in gasoline (-2 million), propane (-3 million) and other oils (-3 million).
Petroleum inventories have risen for seven consecutive weeks by a total of +55 million barrels, the largest increase over any similar period since June 2020, when the market was absorbing the impact of the first wave of the pandemic and lockdowns.
Total inventories are still at the lowest seasonal level since 2005 and -235 million barrels (-13% or -2.22 standard deviations) below the prior ten-year average, but the deficit has narrowed from -291 million barrels (-16% or -3.06 standard deviations) on December 30:
NORTHEAST ASIA has experienced an unusually cold winter, in contrast to milder than normal temperatures at the other end of the Eurasian continent. Heating demand in Beijing, the heart of the Beijing-Tianjin-Hebei (Jīng-Jīn-Jì) mega-region, with a combined population of 113 million, has been +8% higher than the long-term average so far this winter. Beijing’s daily temperatures were below the seasonal average on 43 of 62 days in December and January:
¹ China’s high-altitude balloon overflight across North America and the U.S. decision to shoot it down is being almost totally ignored by the country’s main state-controlled media, suggesting the government is still deciding its response and/or is keen not to allow the episode to worsen relations further.
U.S. OIL DRILLING is slowing in response to the slide in prices since the middle of 2022 (when WTI was trading around $120 per barrel) especially since the start of November (when it was still $90-95). Typically there is a 15-20 week lag between a change in futures prices and a change in number of active rigs. The number of rigs drilling for oil has fallen in 7 of the last 9 weeks by a total of -28 rigs (-4%). The drilling reduction is the largest since July and August 2020 when the industry was still in shock after the first wave of the pandemic and the volume war between Russia and Saudi Arabia:
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: