The level of activity at crude oil export terminals from Corpus Christi to the Louisiana Offshore Oil Port (LOOP) is nothing short of extraordinary — a record 4.8 MMb/d was loaded the week ended August 25, according to RBN’s Crude Voyager report, and Houston-area terminals loaded an all-time high of 1.4 MMb/d. But there’s a lot more to the crude exports story. When you live this stuff day-in, day-out, you see subtle changes that often extend into trends and, if you’re lucky, you sometimes get signals that things you’d been predicting are actually happening. In today’s RBN blog, we discuss highlights from the latest Crude Voyager and what the weekly report’s data and analysis reveal about the global oil market.
Global crude oil markets are undergoing a profound transformation. But it is mostly out of sight, out of mind for all but the most actively involved players in the physical markets. On the surface, it’s a simple change in the Dated Brent delivery mechanism: Starting May 2023, cargoes of Midland-spec WTI — we’ll shorten that to “Midland” for the sake of clarity and simplicity — could be offered into the Brent Complex for delivery the following month. This change has been in the works for years. Production of North Sea crudes that heretofore have been the exclusive members of the Brent club has been on the decline for decades. Allowing the delivery of Midland crude into Brent is intended to increase the liquidity of the physical Brent market, thereby retaining Brent’s status as the world’s preeminent crude marker, serving as the price basis for two-thirds or more of physical crude oil traded in the global market. So far, the new trading and delivery process has been working well. Perhaps too well. For the past two months, delivered Midland has set the price of Brent about 85% of the time. The number of cargoes moving into the Brent delivery “chain” process has skyrocketed, and most of those cargoes are Midland. Is this just an opening surge of players trying their hand in a new market, or does it mean that the Brent benchmark price is becoming no more than freight-adjusted Midland? In today’s RBN blog, we’ll explore this question, and what it could mean for both global and domestic crude markets.
With ever-increasing volumes of Permian crude oil being exported and the recent inclusion of WTI Midland in the assessment of Dated Brent prices, the issue of iron content — especially in some Permian-sourced crude — is coming to the fore. This has become such a point of emphasis for exported light sweet crude because many less complex foreign refineries do not have the ability to manage high iron content adequately. Iron content that exceeds desirable levels could have far-reaching repercussions, from sellers facing financial penalties for not meeting the quality specifications to marine terminals being excluded from the Brent assessment if they miss the mark. It’s a complicated issue, with split views on what causes the iron content in a relatively small subset of Permian oil to be concerningly high — and how best to address the matter. In today’s RBN blog, we look at iron content in crude oil, why it matters to refiners, how it affects prices, and what steps the industry is taking to deal with it.
Like an aging pop star, price benchmarks have to re-invent themselves from time to time to maintain their status. The Dated Brent marker –– as much a survivor as Cher, still going strong at 76 –– has had successes and setbacks in the past and will undergo yet another transformation by June 2023, courtesy of price reporting agency Platts. You definitely need to pay attention to this change, because Dated Brent is used as a pricing reference not only for several crude oil streams sold around the world, but also for other commodities such as LNG, fuel oil and other refined products and petrochemicals — oh, and financial derivatives too. Also, the latest version of the price marker will include an adjusted price for the U.S.’s prolific West Texas Intermediate (WTI). In today’s RBN blog, we discuss the details and implications of Dated Brent’s latest makeover for traders, refiners and other market participants.
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.
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.
North Sea Brent crude plays a critical rolet in setting world oil prices. Here in the US, most folks pay more attention to West Texas Intermediate (WTI) - the North American equivalent benchmark. We regard Brent as just a figurehead for the international market and rarely look beyond the Brent/WTI spread. Yet Brent crude assessments based on physical trades or the ICE Brent futures market are used directly or indirectly to price 70 percent of world oil. Today we begin a “deep dive” series explaining how the Brent crude market operates.