High prices seem to have started to weigh on diesel demand in the United States (US), where distillate inventories, comprising diesel and heating oil, have been slowly rising over the past few weeks.
American distillate inventories are still below the five-year average, but the gap in stocks compared to previous years has slowly started to narrow, suggesting that high prices are hitting demand, while encouraging more refinery output, thanks to solid refining margins.
In this week’s inventory report, the U.S. Energy Information Administration said distillate stocks rose by 1.7 million barrels in the week to November 18, with production rising to an average of 5.1 million barrels per day (bpd).
Distillate fuel inventories are still about 13 percent below the five-year average for this time of year, but two months ago, they were more than 20 percent below the five-year average for that time of the year.
Earlier this autumn, U.S. distillate stocksslumped to their lowest level for this time of the year since 1951, just as the heating season started and a few months ahead of the EU embargo on Russian oil product imports, which goes into effect in February.
Now signs have emerged that weaker demand in the past weeks may have slowly started to rebuild diesel inventories, contrary to seasonal trends.
Distillate inventories in the U.S. rose by 3 million barrels in the six weeks to November 18, according to estimates by Reuters’ senior market analyst John Kemp based on EIA data.
In products supplied, a proxy of implied demand, distillate fuel product supplied averaged 4.0 million bpd over the past four weeks, down by 3.5 percent from the same period last year, the EIA data showed.
However, as implied demand slowed, refineries boosted run rates in the week to November 18, raising overall U.S. refinery utilisation to 93.9 percent up from 92.9 percent for the previous week. This compares with 88.6 percent refinery utilisation over the same week last year.
“Higher refinery runs over the week, along with weaker implied demand for products meant that large builds were seen on the refined product side,” ING strategists said this week, commenting on the EIA report.
Refiners are processing more crude oil to capture the still high refining margins, but demand seems to cool off, not least because of high diesel prices, which haven’t come off this year’s record high as fast as gasoline prices have.
As of November 21, the average retail diesel price in the United States was $5.233 per gallon, or $1.509/gal higher than at this time last year.
To compare, the average gasoline price in the U.S. on the same day was $0.253 per gallon higher than a year ago, EIA data showed.
In New England, where distillate inventories were at their lowest level ever at the start of the heating season and where 33 percent of homes use heating oil as the primary heating fuel, the diesel price is nearly $6/gal, at $5.963 on November 21, or $2.297/gal higher than last year.
Yet, demand for diesel, the primary fuel of the economy, is already showing signs of weakness, also as a result of high prices.
However, the recent drop in international crude oil prices and lower implied demand in the U.S. while distillate production is rising have led to a decline in America’s diesel prices.
A total of 47 of the 50 states are seeing average diesel prices drop from their week-ago levels, with diesel prices down over 10c/gal from a week ago in 19 states, Patrick De Haan, head of petroleum analysis at GasBuddy, said last Wednesday.
Globally, stubbornly high diesel prices fueling inflation as well as slowing economies are expected to lead to a slight decline in diesel demand in 2023, the International Energy Agency (IEA) said in its monthly report last week. Last year, global diesel/gasoil demand growth stood at 1.5 million bpd.
This year’s growth is expected at just 400,000 bpd, while next year, diesel demand will post a small decline “under the weight of persistently high prices, a slowing economy and despite increased gas-to-oil switching,” the IEA said.
By: Tsvetana Paraskova
Paraskova writes for Oilprice.com
FG Admits Adjusting Petrol Pump Price …… Blames Scarcity On Smuggling
The Federal Government has admitted to adjusting the pump price of petrol to cater for the impact of high AGO diesel price on the cost of product transportation across the country.
The Nigerian Midstream and Downstream Petroleum Regulatory Authority (NMDPRA), which made this known in a statement, Friday, also said it was making special provision of diesel to marketers at a reduced price.
Recall that the Minister of State for Petroleum Resources, Chief Timipre Sylva, had in the wake of the increase in the price of petrol at filling stations, said the Federal Government did not give approval for such action.
In a statement titled, “Update on the Supply and Distribution Of Premium Motor Spirit (PMS) Nationwide”, the NMDPRA attributed the current fuel scarcity in the country to the activities of smugglers, “who divert PMS meant for Nigerian market to neighbouring countries where PMS prices are significantly higher than Nigeria’s regulated price.”
The authority said it was engaging and collaborating with the Nigeria Customs Service to address this issue.
It said the price arbitrage between Nigeria and neighbouring countries has continued to grow due to inflation and the regional impact of the Russia-Ukraine conflict on the global energy value chain including international freight rates and coastal vessels charter rates.
The Authority reassured of petrol sufficiency, with available volume of over 1.6 billion litres as of 26th January 2023 both on land and marine, while the NNPC has additionally made firm commitment to supply more volume of PMS for the months ahead to guarantee national energy security and nationwide availability at the government regulated price.
According to the statement, “NMDPRA and key stakeholders including NNPC have put various measures in place to address the issues, including: Modest adjustment in the cost of product transportation to cater for the impact of high AGO price on transporters, while making special provision of diesel to marketers at a reduced price; Automation of products sales interface; Emplacement of a monitoring system in collaboration with government security agencies for distribution of products to retail outlets; Extended operating hours both at the loading depots and some selected filing stations as well as Rehabilitation of critical fuel distribution road network through federal government’s tax credit scheme by the NNPC amidst regular stakeholders’ engagements; among others.”
According to the agency, the ongoing government effort to rehabilitate strategic Nigerian roads ahead of the rainy season has necessitated rerouting of tanker trucks conveying petroleum products to alternative roads, therefore increasing transit time and associated cost of product transportation.
It also said, “We have reinforced our monitoring teams and appropriate sanctions to checkmate the activities of erring marketers who are distorting our planned product flow to designated outlets in order to profiteer from price arbitrage have been emplaced.
Equinor To Divest $1bn Stake In Nigeria’s Agbami Oil Assets
As the gale of International Oil Companies (IOCs) divestment from Nigeria deepens, Norwegian energy firm, Equinor, has hired Standard Chartered to assist in the sale of its major stake in an offshore oilfield in Nigeria.
The potential sale of Equinor’s 20 per cent stake in the Agbami field offshore Nigeria could fetch up to $1 billion, according to Reuters’ sources.
Equinor is reportedly looking to sell its Nigerian oilfield stake to focus on more profitable and newer projects, the sources said.
U.S. supermajor, Chevron, is the operator of the Agbami Field, which lies 70 miles off the coast of the central Niger Delta region and spans 45,000 acres. Chevron has a 67.3 per cent interest in the field, whose production has dropped in recent years. To offset field decline, infill drilling continued in 2019, Chevron says.
In 2020, the field produced 29,000 barrels of oil equivalent per day (boepd), down from 36,000 boepd in the previous year, according to our source.
The rumored sale makes Equinor the latest oil major looking to either exit or downsize operations in Nigeria.
ExxonMobil is trying to sell shallow water assets offshore Nigeria, but President Muhammadu Buhari made a U-turn in August on his initial approval of the asset sale to Seplat after the Nigerian Upstream Petroleum Regulatory Commission, NUPRC, declined to approve the deal.
TotalEnergies and Shell are also looking to sell assets in Nigeria. In May 2022, TotalEnergies launched the sale of its 10 per cent stake in a joint venture, SPDC.
Shell said as early as in 2021 that it did not see its upstream oil operations in Nigeria as compatible with its strategy to become a net-zero energy business.
Last year, Shell put on hold the sale of its onshore assets in Nigeria to comply with a Nigerian Supreme Court ruling to wait for the outcome of an appeal regarding an oil spill in 2019.
2023, Another Strong Year For Oil Industry
Last year was a good year for the oil industry. Despite predictions of its looming demise as renewable energy leads to electrification that in turn leads to the death of oil, fossil fuels were the stars of the year, with demand for all, including coal, notably rising.
Meanwhile, opposition to Big Oil grew louder and protests turned more extreme, with activists gluing themselves to streets and buildings, and vandalizing world-famous works of art in order to raise awareness of climate change.
Oblivious to this rise in the amount of activism, Big Oil went on to rake in record profits thanks to higher prices for the commodities it produces.
According to Reuters, Big Oil majors will report combined earnings of close to $200 billion for 2022, with many of the supermajors booking record quarterly profits during the year thanks to the combination of strong demand for energy and limited supply.
The industry also had a chance to reduce debt, thanks to the strong performance of its products last year.
Per Reuters, the combined debt of Big Oil has fallen to $100 billion, which is the lowest in 15 years and down by more than 50 percent from 2020, when it reached more than $270 billion as companies borrowed to survive.
But it’s not all smooth sailing from here on out. First, there is the windfall profit tax that the EU and the UK decided to impose on energy companies in order to generate some money for its energy aid programs.
Shell said it expected the effect of the UK and EU windfall taxes will cost it $2.4 billion. It also said it may have to reconsider investment plans for the North Sea in light of that hit.
Meanwhile, despite political opposition to developing more oil and gas reserves in the UK, more than 100 bids were submitted this month for new exploration in the basin.
French TotalEnergies also said it would take a substantial hit from windfall taxes in the UK and the EU. According to the supermajor, it would come in at about $2.1 billion. As a result, the company said it will reduce its investments in the North Sea by a quarter, noting that the levy did not provide for any adjustments in case oil and gas prices fell.
Meanwhile, oil and gas prices did fall. Right now, oil is trading at around the same level it was trading a year ago and natural gas prices have fallen substantially in both Europe and the United States—its biggest supplier.
“The energy industry operates in a cyclical market and is subject to volatile commodity prices,” Jean-Luc Guiziou, TotalEnergies’ British head of exploration and production, told the FT this month.
“We believe that the government should remain open to reviewing the energy profits levy if prices reduce before 2028.”
Exxon took it a step beyond criticism, filing alawsuit against the European Union to get it to drop the windfall tax. The company argued that the tax is counterproductive, would discourage investments and undermine investor confidence.
Yet Big Oil has some big investment plans, just not for Europe. Exxon and Chevron, per Reuters, plan to spend 10 percent more this year than they did last year, to the tune of a combined $41 billion.
BP will be spending more on its U.S. shale and Gulf of Mexico operations even though European supermajors as a whole are expected to be more cautious with their money because of the windfall taxes. But they will continue spending heavily on low-carbon projects.
“The European majors appear much more attractively valued than the U.S. majors on our estimates,” HSBC said in a recent note quoted by Reuters. It is among banks that predict stronger share performance for European Big Oil majors after last year U.S. supermajors ruled the stock market.
If investment in low-carbon projects is the guarantee for stronger share performance, then HSBC is right.
Indeed, pressure is growing on the oil industry to set itself more stringent emission-reduction targets and make stronger commitments to decarbonize.
This pressure is unlikely to let up this year as governments in the EU, the UK, and the U.S. double down on their climate change plans, too.
Chances are that 2023 will be another strong year for the oil industry simply because those companies came in strong into the new year and demand for oil and gas is not expected to fall—on the contrary.
The EU will need to buy more gas to refill its storage and it will continue using oil products that it no longer buys from Russia. China is reopening and most observers expect a rebound in oil and gas demand to come sooner rather than later. Even the U.S., for all its green ambitions, is unlikely to stop being the biggest consumer of oil in months. The immediate future of Big Oil is certainly bright.
Slav reports for Oilprice.com
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