Every week, traders far and wide watch inventories at the storage hub of Cushing, OK, for insight into the U.S. crude oil market. Cushing has long been the epicenter for crude trading in the U.S., and while that role has shifted as the Gulf Coast gains more prominence, inventories at the Oklahoma hub are still a valuable indicator for traders looking for supply and demand trends. Recently, we’ve seen Cushing stocks drop significantly, declining for 11 straight weeks since the beginning of July to their lowest levels since last Thanksgiving. Today, we review the recent drop at Cushing, and discuss how a few changes in supply and demand fundamentals, plus strong pricing motives, helped drag down stockpiles this summer.
The U.S. natural gas market’s supply-demand balance in 2018 has been razor thin, with demand ramping up to match strong production gains. The result has been a large and stubborn storage deficit compared to prior years and price volatility, the likes of which the market hasn’t seen in a decade or more. How will the current storage level affect the winter gas market, and what are the prospects for storage to catch up before the winter is up? Today’s blog considers potential scenarios for the season-ending gas inventory balance.
Volatility is back big time in the U.S. natural gas market. The CME/NYMEX Henry Hub prompt natural gas futures contract in mid-November raced up more than $1.00 (28%) in the span of two days to a settlement of about $4.84/MMBtu on November 14, the highest price since February 2014, only to whipsaw back down 80 cents the next day. And, since then it hasn’t been unusual to see daily swings of 20-45 cents in either direction. As of yesterday, the now-prompt January 2019 contract was at about $4.34/MMBtu, down 27 cents on the day. The gas market hasn’t seen quite this level of volatility in a decade or more. Why now and what are the fundamentals behind it? With the coldest, highest-demand months still ahead, today’s blog provides an update of the gas supply-demand balance driving the recent price volatility.
In January 2016 the ICE futures Exchange changed the expiration calendar for its flagship Brent crude contract. The March 2016 contract expired on January 29, 2016 under new calendar rules that stipulate expiration one month and one day prior to delivery. This was done belatedly to reflect a change in the assessment of the physical Brent market that was implemented back in January 2012. On paper the change is just an overdue action by ICE to properly align the timing calendar for their popular futures contract with the underlying physical market. But in practice - as we suggest in today’s blog, the change has significant impacts on the calculation and analysis of the commonly utilized spread between ICE Brent (the international benchmark crude) and the U.S. equivalent West Texas Intermediate (WTI) crude futures contract traded on the CME/NYMEX.
Cold weather, abundant supplies of natural gas and lower-than-normal winter gas prices spurred record power burns in January and February, and the power burn for the rest of 2015 is likely to be record-breaking too. It almost has to be; all the gas expected to be produced this year needs to go somewhere, and there’s only so much that can be stored. That suggests continued softness in natural gas prices—hardly good news for gas producers.
U.S. crude stocks are at their highest level in over 30 years and the contango market pricing structure continues to encourage increases in the stockpile. No one knows exactly how much storage space remains. The surplus is keeping U.S. crude prices low compared to international rivals but petroleum product prices (gasoline and diesel) are climbing higher, having bounced back from recent lows. Refining margins are sky high as bad weather and outages hamper operations. But as we describe today, the crude surplus remains a dark cloud on the horizon.
With crude prices close to six year lows and the futures market pointing higher, a number of the larger commodities trading houses are buying and holding cheap crude in huge floating tankers for later sale. For the trade to work, prices today must be lower than they are in the future and the spread must cover the storage cost and other expenses. Players in the floating storage game have to be high rollers – the minimum cost of a bet at this table is ~$100 million. Today we complete a two-part series on contango-spread trades with a look at floating storage.
Since the start of 2015, crashing crude prices have opened up a new opportunity for traders to profit while producers bite their nails. In today’s oversupplied market, prices for prompt delivery are lower than they are for further out months – a market condition known as contango. That’s when traders put on contango spread trades that involve buying and storing crude to sell at a higher price later. Rapidly rising crude inventories at Cushing (up 3MMBbl last week according to the Energy Information Administration - EIA) suggest it’s a popular strategy. Today we explain how the trade works at the Cushing, OK trading hub.
One positive element to the oil price crash is that consumers are paying less at the pump for their gasoline. Of course it is natural that prices at the pump don’t fall as fast as they do in spot or futures markets – there is a lag – usually measured in days. However, while average retail gas prices have fallen over $1/Gal in the past year – more or less in line with spot and futures markets, it seems that changes to diesel prices at the pump have lagged further behind refinery prices. The result is that retail buyers filling their diesel truck at the pump have benefited far less from the oil price windfall than gasoline powered vehicle owners – at least so far. Today we review the data.
Six months ago, the natural gas forward price for 2021 averaged $5.15/MMBtu. Back then a producer could hedge forward production at that price. Today 2021 is only $4.63/MMBtu, a decline of $0.52/MMBtu even though we are now in the middle of the winter. Today the forward market doesn’t get above $5.00/MMBtu until 2026, certainly a disappointment for many a producer that didn’t hedge last summer. What does the market know about the future that is different from what was known back in June? How do these forward curves work in the first place? In this new blog series on North American natural gas forward curves we will provide background on the mechanics of forward curves, examine the forward curve in each of the major regions in the North American natural gas market, and do a deep dive into natural gas historical trends, major drivers and market expectations as related to forward markets.
The Brent premium to WTI has traded as wide as $23/Bbl this year but was down to 2 cnts/Bbl on Friday July 19, 2013. At one point during trading nearby WTI prices rose above Brent – the first time that’s happened in three years. Yesterday (July 22, 2013) WTI August expired at 106.91 - $1.14 lower than Brent September. Today we look at why the spread has narrowed so rapidly and whether it will stay that way.
Last week (March 18, 2013) the CME NYMEX Henry Hub futures contract open interest reached a record 1.32 MM contracts. The previous high was in April 2012. Open interest represents the number of positions held by futures market participants that are not yet offset by another transaction, by delivery or by exercise. Today we look at what lies behind the run up in natural gas futures traffic.
Brent physical traders are members of an exclusive club that transacts roughly fifty 600 MBbl cargoes of crude a month representing about 1 MMb/d of production. ICE Brent futures traded an average of 500 MMb/d during 2012. These two markets are linked together by the ICE Brent Index that allows for cash settlement of futures. Today we explain the Brent futures delivery mechanism.
Throughout 2012 and into this January natural gas producers have done far more hedging than consumers with the Henry Hub NYMEX futures contract. Producers are still locking in higher prices on the forward curve to protect the value of their future production in the ground. Today we review trends in hedger sentiment.
NYMEX WTI is the most liquid commodity future in the world. So far this year the exchange traded an average 125 MMb/d in the prompt contract alone. The NYMEX crude price is so ubiquitous that it also underpins the domestic US crude spot market. Differences between futures and physical trading as well as the delivery mechanism that links the two markets, make pricing physical WTI complicated. Today we begin a two-part look at US spot crude pricing.