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Aimless Action In Energy Markets

Friday, Oct 23 2020
Market Talk

The back and forth and ultimately aimless action in energy markets continues, with another mixed bag for the futures complex to start Friday’s trading. While a Thursday bounce kept the risk of a technical breakdown at bay, if prices settle near current levels today we’ll have another weekly loss with a lower-high and lower-low than the previous week, which suggests that when prices do finally break out of this sideways range, it will be to the downside. 

The price action has not helped the industry, as companies large and small still seem to be struggling with a challenging demand environment that looks like it could get worse over the winter.

Exxon was reportedly close to making job cuts in the U.S., after going through similar rationalizations around the world. While the large oil companies are all following a similar playbook on cutting expenses to survive the COVID crisis, a Rystad energy report suggests that many more smaller producers will not make it. The report forecasts more than $100 billion in debt that will need to be restructured via bankruptcy this year, and predicts bankruptcy filings will remain high over the next two years. 

The outlook isn’t much better for refiners. The charts below show current crack spreads are near break-even levels, and the forward curve suggests those margins may not return to healthier levels for more than a year. 

The plea to the EPA by senators in refining states to give those plants a break from unreachable renewable volume obligations didn’t seem to stir traders much Thursday with RIN values holding near multi-year highs, while ethanol prices continued to rally on the heels of surging corn prices.

Signs of a bottom? Trafigura was reported to take a stake in Italian refiner Saras, which (like most refiners) has seen its share price tumble this year. At current prices, that facility could be seen as more of a terminal asset than a production asset for the trading house, and the relatively small (3%) stake suggests they aren’t exactly jumping in with both feet.

Looking (far) ahead? Shell hired a leader for its Global Renewable Solutions department, who won’t start until August of 2021, in what is another sign of the tide change for refiners and perhaps of the cash flow challenges they face.

Libya’s warring factions are expected to sign a truce today, which should allow another 300,000 - 500,000 barrels/day of oil to reach the world market, which will put more pressure on the rest of the OPEC alliance to agree to extend production cuts as demand isn’t strong enough to soak up any incremental supply.

The storm system that’s been churning in the Caribbean for the better part of a week looks like it went from nothing to maybe something overnight. The odds of development jumped to 60%, and instead of heading north and east over Cuba and the southern tip of Florida, it’s now looking like it might move further north into the Gulf of Mexico before making a hard right turn, so we’ll need to keep an eye on it over the weekend. Hurricane Epsilon is still churning through the Atlantic, but beyond some dangerous rip currents, should not impact the U.S. or Canadian coast lines as it is staying out to sea.

If you’re having trouble sleeping, take a look at the study the EIA commissioned on the energy efficiency gap in food processing.

Two conclusions were drawn from the study: 

1. If the least efficient processing plants adopt basic upgrades, they’ll consume less energy.   

2. We probably did not need the EIA to hire a company to perform a stochastic frontier regression analysis applied to pooled cross sections using plant level data from the quinquennial Census of Manufacturing to figure that out. 

Click here to download a PDF of today's TACenergy Market Talk.

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