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:
¹ China has reported severe coronavirus outbreaks in megacities across the entire country, including Beijing and Tianjin in the northeast, Guangzhou in the southeast, and Chongqing in the southwest. Xinjiang in the northwest has been under semi-permanent lockdown for months. The central government’s lockdown and suppression strategy is failing to control transmission and disrupting the entire economy. But there is still no sign of an exit strategy that would enable the country to live with the virus, worsening the economic and oil consumption outlook for 2023.
BRENT calendar spreads for the first half of 2023 have softened significantly as traders anticipate a business cycle slowdown and China’s postponed re-opening from coronavirus will relieve some pressure on crude supplies and inventories:
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:
BRENT’s six-month calendar spread has fallen to a backwardation of $4.90 per barrel (95th percentile for all trading days since 1990) down from $7.60 (98th percentile) a month ago and a record over $15-20 in the first months after Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. The softening spread is consistent with a recession in Europe and China, possibly spreading across the rest of the world, easing pressure on oil supplies in 2023:
U.S. TREASURY yield curve is now more inverted between two-year and ten-year maturities than at any time since September 1981 at the start of the second instalment of the double-dip recession. U.S. interest rate traders anticipate an exceptionally rapid turn around in monetary policy. Such a rapid pivot is consistent with a soft-landing allowing the central bank to unwind rate rises quickly, or because a hard-landing eliminates inflation and requires it to support growth and employment instead:
U.S. PETROLEUM INVENTORIES depleted by -11 million barrels in the week to November 11. Large drawdowns in commercial crude (-5 million bbl), crude in the strategic petroleum reserve (-4 million) and other oils (-3 million) were partially offset by increased stocks of gasoline (+2 million), distillate fuel oil (+1 million) and jet fuel (+0.3 million). Total inventories have depleted by -509 million barrels since early July 2020, the largest drawdown on record and a symptom of persistent under-supply:
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:
EUROPE’s gas inventories have continued to accumulate later into the start of the traditional winter heating season than any other year in records dating back to 2011. Gas inventories in the European Union and the United Kingdom (EU28) were still rising on November 13, later than the previous record of November 12 in 2011 and far past the median peak occurring on October 26. The late fill is attributable to a combination of warmer-than-normal temperatures and high prices rationing consumption. Late fill is lifting inventories close to a record high and reducing the probability stocks will fall critically low before the end of winter:
GREAT BRITAIN’s maximum winter loads on the transmission system since 1990/91 are illustrated in the chart below (loads exclude Northern Ireland which has its own electricity network). Loads shown are “triads” – the three highest half-hourly loads separated by at least 10 days occurring each winter between November and February. Triads are used to set transmission network use of system (TNUoS) charges for large electricity consumers who are metered on a half-hourly basis. Triads are declared retrospectively after the end of each winter in March (“What are electricity triads?” National Grid, 2018).
Half-hourly (HH) customers are billed for TNUoS based on the amount of electricity they use during the three triad half-hours. Triads set charges for the entire year. In the limit, if a HH consumer uses no electricity from the grid during those three half hour periods, their TNUoS is set at zero for the entire year. The possibility a triad might be declared gives HH customers a strong incentive to minimise electricity use and/or generate their own power during periods when the total load on the network is expected to be very high.
Triad charging helps reduce strain on the grid during the winter peak, usually between 1630 GMT and 1800 GMT, when street lighting comes on, families start preparing the evening meal, but many shops and offices are still open and occupied. Several consultancies offer triad forecasting services – alerting HH consumers when there is an elevated risk that a triad could occur so they can reduce their net load temporarily.
In winter 2021/22, triads occurred on Thursday December 2 (43.7 GW at 1630-1700 GMT); Wednesday January 5 (42.8 GW at 1700-1730 GMT); and Thursday January 20 (43.5 GW at 1700-1730 GMT) (“Triads 2021/22”, National Grid, March 29, 2022).
Triad loads have been declining since 2007/08, and especially since 2010/11, as a result of improvements in energy efficiency, sluggish economic growth, changes in the industrial mix, and an increase in self-generation by HH consumers as well as embedded generation from solar panels added to homes, offices and local distribution networks:
U.S. OIL PRODUCERS increased the number of rigs drilling for oil to 622 on November 10 up from 610 two weeks earlier. Drilling increased significantly for the first time since July. The number of active rigs has rebounded from a pandemic low of just 172 in August 2020 and is nearing the pre-pandemic level of 683 in early March 2020.
But the resumption has been much slower than after the two previous downturns. The rig count has risen by a total of +450 (+3.8 per week) over the 117 weeks since August 2020 compared with an increase of +544 (+4.6 per week) at the same point after the last cyclical low in 2016 and +885 (+7.6 per week) after the cyclical low in 2009:
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: