CHINA’s official Xinhua news agency and other government-run sites are running multiple stories and commentaries emphasising epidemic controls must be applied with “softness”, “greater precision”, ensuring daily life and healthcare continues. There has been a marked change of tone from the previous military-themed rhetoric and analogies to battling the epidemic, with greater focus on resuming as much normality as possible. Like other governments facing widespread social unrest, China appears to be pursuing a mixed strategy of rolling up protestors, intensifying street policing, while trying to make selective concessions to keep the majority of the population in line by relaxing epidemic controls to reduce their social and economic costs.
BRENT’s calendar spreads for the first part of 2023 have slumped from a steep backwardation at the start of November close to contango as the end of the month nears. The nearest to deliver January-February spread is no longer a useful indicator as the January contract nears expiry and there is insufficient liquidity to make the price representative. But the more active February-March and March-April spreads are now trading close to flat from backwardations of around $1.50 per barrel at the start of the month.
Refiners and traders seem to have accelerated purchases ahead of the introduction of the planned G7 price cap on Russia’s crude exports from early next month to protect themselves against any possible disruption. Concern about the impact likely drove up prices and spreads in September and October.
But the cap itself now appears likely to be set at a relatively high level with relaxed enforcement, at least initially. The result is a marked softening in the market. At the same time, the business cycle continues to weaken across most of Europe and Asia, dampening crude demand. All of this is weighing on prices and spreads for nearby futures contracts with deliveries in early 2023:
U.S. GASOLINE inventories have remained much closer to normal, in contrast to distillates, with gasoline stocks just -9 million barrels (-4%) below the pre-pandemic five-year seasonal average on November 18:
U.S. COOLING DEMAND since the start of the year has been around +11% higher than the long-term seasonal average (1981-2010) and +2% higher than the prior seven-year average (2015-2021). Higher-than-usual temperatures have contributed to pressure on electricity networks and put gas consumption by power generators on course for a record high this year:
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U.S. PETROLEUM inventories depleted by -9 million bbl in the week to July 22, with declines in commercial crude (-5 million), gasoline (-3 million), and distillate fuel oil (-1 million) as well as a drawdown in the SPR (-6 million), partially offset by increases in propane (+3 million) and other oils (+3 million). Petroleum inventories have depleted in 80 of the last 108 weeks by a total of -438 million bbl since the start of July 2020. Total stocks are at the lowest seasonal level since 2008 and show no signs of rebuilding:
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