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The Oil Price – Some (Mar-16) Observations and Thoughts

In this post I present some selected parameters I monitor which may help understand near term (2-3 years) oil price movements and levels.

It has been my understanding for some time that the formulations of fiscal and monetary policies also affects the commodities markets. Changes to total global debt has and will continue to affect consumers’/societies’ affordability and thus also the price formation of oil.

I have earlier asserted;

Any forecasts of oil (and gas) demand/supplies and oil price trajectories are NOT very helpful if they do not incorporate forecasts for changes to total global credit/debt, interest rates and developments to consumers’/societies’ affordability.

  • The permanence of the global supply overhang could be prolonged if consumption/demand developments soften/weakens and it is not possible to rule out a near term decline.
  • Recent demand/consumption data for total US petroleum products supplied show signs of saturation which provides headwinds for any upwards movements in the oil price.
  • While prices were high many oil companies went deeper into debt in a bid to increase production of costlier oil. Many responded to the price collapse with attempts to sustain/grow production in efforts to moderate cash flow declines and thus ease debt service.
  • If the forward [futures] curve moves from a present weak contango (ref also figure 02) to backwardation, this would erode support for the oil price.
  • Some suggest that growth from India will take over as China’s growth slows.
    Looking at the data from the Bank for International Settlements (BIS) there is nothing there that now suggests India (refer also figure 05) has started to accelerate its debt expansion. The Indian Rupee has depreciated versus the US dollar, thus offsetting some of the stimulative consumption effects from a lower oil price.

The recent weeks oil price volatility has likely been influenced by several factors like short squeezes, rumors and fluid sentiments.

Near term factors that likely will move the oil price higher.

  • Continued growth in debt primarily in China and the US. {This will go on until it cannot!}
  • Another round with concerted efforts of the major central banks with lower interest rates and quantitative easing.

And/or

  • A tightening in the global oil demand/supply balance from whatever reasons.

I also believe that D E M A N D (consumption) developments now are more important than widely recognized and that demand/consumption developments will play a major factor in as from when oil prices will regain support to move to a sustainable higher level.

I now hold it 90% probable that the oil price will enter a new leg down, and that the low in January 2016 could be taken out.

Recently the total US petroleum demand growth had two components

  1. Growth in consumption, mainly driven by the collapse of the oil price
  2. Noticeable growth in petroleum stocks (primarily crude oil) since late 2014 driven by a favorable contango.

The combined effects from these grew annualized US petroleum demand by 1.3 Mb/d relative to January 2014 (ref also figure 01). US consumption growth has now stalled, which may suggest saturation from the lower oil price is about to be reached.

Figure 01: The chart above shows development in annualized [52 weeks moving averages] US total petroleum consumption [blue line] and storage build [red line] both rh scale. The black line, lh scale, shows development in the oil price (WTI). Consumption and storage developments are relative to Janaury 2014 (baseline). NOTE, changes in consumption and stocks are stacked, thus the red line also shows total annualized changes in demand.

Figure 01: The chart above shows development in annualized [52 weeks moving averages] US total petroleum consumption [blue line] and storage build [red line] both rh scale. The black line, lh scale, shows development in the oil price (WTI). Consumption and storage developments are relative to Janaury 2014 (baseline).
NOTE, changes in consumption and stocks are stacked, thus the red line also shows total annualized changes in demand.

In the last 6 months total US petroleum consumption developments have stalled and there are some relative changes amongst the products (ref below).

A weakened contango (ref also figure 02) will likely reduce demand for storage.

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The Contango Spread Supports The Oil Price And Results In Strong Stock Building

As analysts and pundits keep staring into their crystal balls searching for clues to future moves in the oil price, it may be more helpful to look at some actual developments that may explain the recent strong US stock builds, developments in US total petroleum consumption and what this now may presage about future oil price movements.

In this post I present a closer look at the recent growth in US total petroleum demands split into:

  • Development in US total petroleum consumption (inclusive some selected products)
  • Rate of stock build of US commercial crude oil stocks

Then a look at developments in crude oil supplies from OPEC where several of the big oil producers in the Middle East have had strong growth in the number of oil rigs since early 2014. Recent media reports about increases in oil supplies from the biggest Middle East oil producer.

Figure 01: The chart above shows developments in the oil price (Brent spot), blue line and left hand scale [The oil price has been multiplied by 4 to fit the scaling on the left hand scale]. The thick black line shows the weekly EIA reported total inventory of US commercial crude oil stocks, left hand scale. The thin gray line plotted versus the right hand scale shows the daily changes to crude oil inventories from weekly EIA data. The thick red line plotted versus the right hand scale is a trailing 28 days moving average of changes to the crude oil inventories. Stock draw downs adds to supplies and may moderate price growth for some time. Figure 02 has zoomed in on the recent developments.

Figure 01: The chart above shows developments in the oil price (Brent spot), blue line and left hand scale [The oil price has been multiplied by 4 to fit the scaling on the left hand scale]. The thick black line shows the weekly EIA reported total inventory of US commercial crude oil stocks, left hand scale.
The thin gray line plotted versus the right hand scale shows the daily changes to crude oil inventories from weekly EIA data.
The thick red line plotted versus the right hand scale is a trailing 28 days moving average of changes to the crude oil inventories.
Stock draw downs adds to supplies and may moderate price growth for some time.
Figure 02 has zoomed in on the recent developments.

In Q1 2014 the average daily US stock build was 0.29 Mb/d and during Q1 2015 the average US daily stock build was 1.10 Mb/d.

Demand for US stock build was up 0.8 Mb/d year over year. This stronger stock build temporarily adds to (global) demand and supports the oil price.

What drives this strong stock build is the price spread between contracts for prompt/front month deliveries versus contracts for later deliveries when the futures curve is in what is referred to as contango, refer also figure 3.

The recent strong builds in US crude oil storage may give away some clues about underlying developments in consumption.

Demand = Consumption + Stock changes = Supplies

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