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.

The NYMEX New York October gasoline contract expired last Friday at $3.34/Gal, up 13 percent during the week from $2.91/Gal last Monday (September 24, 2012). In contrast the November contract closed 42 cents lower than October on Friday at  $2.92/Gal. The sudden jump in October New York gasoline prices during the last week of trading was caused by severe supply problems in the Northeast US. This week new cargoes en-route to New York have calmed market fears but the disruptions look set to repeat in a tightly balanced market. Today we investigate what happened.

Henry Hub is the center of the natural gas spot-trading universe with virtually every btu being sold at a price linked in some way to this market center. Henry Hub is also the delivery point for the CME/NYMEX natural gas commodity futures contract that is now the third largest in the world. In the past 5 years the shale gas phenomena has revolutionized North American gas supplies and changed the shape of the traditional south to north producer to consumer delivery pattern. More changes are on the way. Today we continue our blog series by asking whether Henry Hub still holds its own as the CME delivery point.

The ratio between crude oil and natural gas (NYMEX) futures yesterday was 31.8. That is crude prices in $/Bbl were 31.8 X natural gas prices in $/MMbtu. In the 10 years from August 1997 to August 2007 the ratio averaged 7.5 X – that was the old world. Since August 2007 the ratio has averaged 19.4 X – with a dramatic rise during the last year to dizzying heights over 50 X. A major shift to high liquid hydrocarbon production has ensued. Now the futures market indicates the ratio will halve from 31 X to 15 X by 2020. Today we review the prospects for a return to a more normal crude to gas ratio.

Natural gas futures surged over 12 percent on Thursday to close at  $2.49/MMbtu following an unexpectedly bullish EIA storage report. Analysts interpreted the storage numbers as evidence that coal to gas switching in the power market has not yet reversed as we enter the summer peaking season.  The next market report to hit trader’s desks after the EIA storage numbers is the Commodity Futures Trading Commission (CFTC) Commitment of Traders (COT) analysis released later today (Friday). In today’s blog “The Long and Short of It – COT Reporting” Sandy Fielden takes a deeper look at the value of the COT report.