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Path Of Least Resistance For Product Prices

Thursday, May 21 2020
Market Talk

The U.S. Department of Energy was unable to find almost seven million barrels of crude oil in the U.S. last week. It’s true; they said so in yesterday’s EIA weekly status report, in a number nobody normally pays attention to, but is now contributing to a strong rally in oil prices.

WTI prices are now just one decent day away from filling the gap in the chart left behind during the March meltdown. Typically we see a tendency for product prices – particularly for gasoline – to trend higher while heading into a driving-season holiday. Until the upward momentum breaks, it seems like the path of least resistance over the next couple of days is for prices to continue moving higher.

The DOE listed nearly one million barrels/day of oil as unaccounted for last week, the second week that figure has surpassed -900,000 barrels/day, marking the only two times in 20 years of data we’ve seen that much crude go missing. It’s not too terribly surprising that a weekly government report could have this type of error factor, and what it most likely means is that actual U.S. oil production has probably declined much more quickly than the official estimates can keep up with. It all likelihood, U.S. oil production is probably close to 10 million barrels/day instead of 11 million barrels/day, meaning a drop of nearly three million barrels/day since the COVID shut downs began in a testament to the industry’s ability to adapt based on cash flow rather than mandates.

That adjustment factor will likely show up in the monthly report data and helps explain how Cushing, OK stocks have plummeted just one month since the panic occurred surrounding them overflowing.

Diesel continues to look weak fundamentally in the DOE data, and in more industry reports like the weekly rail data report, or regional basis values that are hitting double-digit negatives in the Midwest. So far that weakness isn’t outweighing the futures rally, but it has prevented ULSD from keeping up with the rest of the complex, leaving it in a perilous technical position. Ultimately, diesel prices may end up meaning more pressure on local spot and rack prices if increasing refinery production to keep pace with the gasoline recovery means even more diesel is made without a home.

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

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