The UK speedier Coronavirus variant cuts oil prices by US$2/b so far this week as travel is restricted to and from the UK. A bounce back to the recent highs is likely in early 2021. This could become the high for Q1/21.
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EIA Weekly Data: The EIA data on Wednesday December 23rd was mixed. Commercial inventories fell 0.6Mb on the week to 499.5Mb but this was all due to US exports recovering by 472Kb/d, or by 3.3Mb on the week. With no change in exports there would have been a gain in inventories this week. Crude inventories are now 58.2Mb or 13.2% above last year’s level of 441.4Mb. Gasoline inventories fell by 1.1Mb while distillates fell by 2.3Mb as US Refinery Utilization and product produced declined from 79.1% to 78.0% and is much below last year’s level of 93.3%. US domestic crude production was unchanged at 11.0Mb/d, but is down 1.9Mb/d from last year’s 12.9Mb/d.
Consumption fell last week. Total usage fell by 247Kb/d to 19.1Mb/d. Offsetting this Gasoline consumption rose 47Kb/d to 8.0Mb/d while Jet Fuel demand rose 46Kb/d to 1.196Mb/d. Total Demand now is 2.26Mb or 10.6% below last year’s level of 21.35Mb/d. Gasoline Demand is down 13.8% from the 9.3Mb/d consumed last year and Jet Fuel is 22.4% below demand of 1.54Mb/d last year.
Total Stocks are now 92.8Mb or 7.3% above the 1.26Bb in storage last year. Cushing Oil Inventories were flat on the week at 58.4Mb in storage but are high compared to 37.8Mb last year at this time. If Cushing inventories exceed 60Mb then there will be concern about excess inventories in the domestic market. In early 2021, this could occur resulting in significant crude price pressure.
Baker Hughes Rig Data: Last week Friday, the Baker Hughes Rig Survey showed an increase in the US rig count. It rose by eight (up 15 rigs in the prior week) to 346 rigs working, but remains down 57% from 813 rigs working a year ago. The US oil rig count rose by five (up 12 rigs last week) to 263 rigs but is down 62% from 685 rigs working last year. The Permian saw an increase of six rigs to 174 rigs working but remains 58% below last year’s level of 414 rigs working. Over US$45/b for WTI seems to be a price point where producers see economic returns from drilling. Yet, so far there has been no corresponding increase in US domestic production.
Canada saw a big decrease in the rig count last week, down nine to 102 rigs working as the industry slows down for the holiday season. The rig activity level is down 32% from a year ago when 149 rigs were working. The data will continue to decline for the next week or two and then start up again with greater activity in the New Year. The rig count for oil is now at 41 rigs (down 11 from last week) and down 53% from 88 rigs working last year. The natural gas rig count rose by two rigs last week to 61 rigs working, unchanged from last year.
Natural gas prices have recovered significantly as colder weather hits across North America (with the NorthEast particularly hit hard). AECO is now at $2.66/mcf. NYMEX is now at US$2.70/mcf. We expect much higher prices over the coming winter months. With cold weather across much of Asia, spot LNG prices have rocketed up to US$12/MmBtu for importers in Japan, China and South Korea to meet their electricity and heating needs. The US exported a record high of 9.4Bcf/d of LNG and operated at 93% capacity.
Conclusion: We are now back to crude price levels seen in March 2020 just before the pandemic caused lockdowns of worldwide economies. WTI today is at US$47.98/b up slightly from last week.
Positive issues for higher crude prices:
- Winter is here in earnest and demand is rising for heating oil and demand rises during the Christmas period as driving picks up.
- While OPEC has lowered the near term demand forecast for crude oil they see demand rising in 2021 to 95.89Mb/d from 89.99Mb/d in 2020. The forecast for Q4/20 is for consumption of 93.47Mb/d and by Q4/21 is forecast at 97.29Mb/d.
- A war premium is now included in crude prices due to two recent attacks on oil facilities in the Middle East.
Negatives issues for lower crude prices:
- OPEC’s agreement earlier this month was a disaster. Instead of delaying any production increases to Q3/21, they agreed to a production rise in January of 500Kb/d. They also plan to review production quotas monthly (next meeting January 4th) with plans to increase production by 500Kb/d for the next three months if they see the demand being there and prices have held up.
- The demand for energy is expected to wane in the coming months as the pandemic spread causes more shutdowns of economies. Lockdowns and curfews are occurring across the US, Canada and most of Europe with tightened restrictions for the Christmas holiday season. Italy has imposed a total lockdown over Christmas.The UK speedier mutant variant is worrisome as it has now spread to other countries. The US is seeing an acceleration of cases and deaths despite now having two vaccines available. The next 3-5 months could see terrible levels of deaths as many areas have ICU beds fully utilized and are now rationing care. There are now 18.3M cases (up from 16.8M cases last week) in the US with 324K deaths (up from 305K last week). Yesterday showed another death rate at over 3,000 (the fifth day this month over 3,000). Worldwide the caseload is 78.2M and deaths at 1.72M.
World-wide crude and product inventories are now 475Mb over the five year average. If OPEC agrees to add 500Kb/d in February and more each of the next two months, then crude should breach US$40/b. The near-term support level is US$46.25/b. One will need to keep an eye on crude and product inventory levels to determine how low crude oil prices could fall during the coming months. Energy and energy service stocks are overbought and could stay so into early 2021. We see significant downside risk but that the plunge may not occur now until we are into January 2021. The most vulnerable companies are energy and energy service companies with high debt loads, high operating costs, declining production, current balance sheet debt maturities of some materiality within the next 12 months and those that produce heavier crude barrels. A breach of US$40/b will hit these stocks hard.
Continue to hold cash and remain patient for the next low risk BUY window which should occur late in Q1/21. Traders may want to harvest some of the great gains since the BUY signal triggered in March on strong up days. OPEC+ production is too high and is rising when it should have been held flat with no cheating.
Energy Stock Market: The S&P/TSX Energy Index now trades at 91.57 down modestly from 93.32 from last week. The S&P/TSX Energy Index started the year at 146 so it is down 36% year-to-date. A bit over two weeks ago the high for the Index was 98.49 and we may see a bounce back to this level or slightly higher into early 2021. Tax loss selling has not occurred this year. We now see the decline occurring in Q1/21. We discuss this in our December 17th SER issue and go over numerous examples (for the Index and for individual stocks). The S&P/TSX Energy Index is likely to fall below the low of 61.21 (the low in late October) during Q1/21. A breach of 87.55 should start this downward trend.
In our December SER we introduced a new feature, monthly articles from a guest contributor, Professional Engineer and oil industry veteran, Ron Barmby. He will provide articles on climate change issues and related policies that affect the energy sector. We hope you learn much from this new product offering.
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We will be taking a week off for vacation next week so our next issue of ‘Eye on Energy’ will be on Wednesday January 6, 2021.
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