Yesterday, one of the best-known providers of energy market intelligence thanks to its massive private and patented network of land, sea, and satellite monitors, Genscape, held a webinar titled the "Current state of the global oil market" in which it covered all the core aspects that investors in the oil space find concerning, among which the following:
- Global oversupply of oil
- OPEC's dilemma with Saudi Arabia keeping up pressure to not cut production
- North American crude oil production forecast
- Impact of sustained weakness in crude oil prices on U.S. production
- What does the decline in U.S. production mean for the storage glut and refinery supply?
- U.S. oil storage
- Cushing, OK, storage record-highs in April 2015 and January 2016
- Where will the crude oil go?
- Expectations for additional storage coming online
While some the key topics discussed focused on the most followed issue, namely total US supply and commercial oil stocks, which as can be seen are now at a record high and rising...
... and in fact at 504 million as of today's DOE update which saw the addition of another 2.1 mmb last week, pushing total stocks to 78mmb (18%) above year ago levels...
...two charts stood out for us, perhaps the most important ones when it comes to the near-term trajectory of oil prices: namely storage capacity. Here Genscape joins the ever louder chorus that the US is approaching the capacity tipping point:
Further, Genscape adds that when looking specifically at Cushing, the storage facility is virtually operationally full (or at 80%) with just 4-5 more months at current inventory build left until the choke point is breached, and as we have reported previously, storage requests for specific grades being denied however the silver lining is that there is a lot of open pipeline space from Cushing to gulf coast (their full presentation can be watched here).
It is this capacity that is currently being filled because if looking at today's DOE breakdown, while PADD 2 saw inventories rise by 2.25 million barrels to a new record high 155 million, the Midwest storage hub at Cushing was up only 36,000 - a divergence which confirms that Cushing is now routinely denying storage requests, something we noted first two weeks ago.
... which has in turn prompted some industry participants to ask if Cushing is already operationally full?
Which brings us to another point brought up yesterday by Goldman's Damien Courvalin who warned yesterday that there are ever greater near-term risks of breaching PADD 2, where Cushing is located, storage capacity:
The large builds in gasoline and crude stocks have brought PADD 2 storage utilization near record high levels. While the recent decline in Midcontinent refining margins should help avoid breaching storage capacity, by finally bringing gasoline back into deficit, this will likely only exacerbate the build in crude inventories in coming months and should require further weakness in PADD2 crude prices to spread this build to the USGC. Weaker gasoline demand/exports, or higher margins/runs or finally resilient crude imports/production, could create binding storage issues beyond the intermittent Cushing WTI cash price weakness observed so far, which would require another large leg lower in crude prices to shut production in the Midcontinent and Canada. As we have argued, this continued testing of storage constraints should keep price and margin volatility elevated.
Which brings us to the key topic: is it excess supply or declining demand. Here are the facts: we know that OPEC may or may not "freeze" production at record output, even as Iran exports flood the market and US shale producers have no choice but to pump every last drop they can within the constraints of capex reduction.
Then there was the following just released earnings from the EIA, according to whose blog post, U.S. Gulf of Mexico (GOM) crude oil production is estimated to increase to record high levels in 2017, even as oil prices remain low.
EIA projects GOM production will average 1.63 million barrels per day (b/d) in 2016 and 1.79 million b/d in 2017, reaching 1.91 million b/d in December 2017. GOM production is expected to account for 18% and 21% of total forecast U.S. crude oil production in 2016 and 2017, respectively.
And then there is the demand aspect, which according to many is not a concern, but in reality as the charts below demonstrate, is sinking fast.
Exhibit A: US distillate consumption has now averaged just 3.5 mbd over the last 4 weeks, down a whopping 650,000 from this period year ago, as end-demand appears to have cratered.
This means that to make up for the plunge in demand, distillate stocks had to rise again, which they did by 1.4 mbd, now 27% higher than a year ago, and up to a record level for this time of the year:
Meanwhile, even as demand is declining, US refineries processed a record 15.8 mbd, up 406,000 bd form a year ago:
All of which suggests that with a broken OPEC cartel failing to cause supply declines, and with demand sliding, all interim steps in the process are operating and storing at or near capacity. Which in turn suggests that the warnings by the likes of Genscape, Goldman and others that US land storage is about to hit tank tops, are all too real.
It is only when the world realizes that this contingency is an all too real actuality, that the next leg down in the price of oil take place.
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For those interested, the Genscape presentation can be watched in its entirety below