"There’s A Feeling Of Bits Of Ice Cracking All At Once" - This Is The 'Big New Threat' To Oil Prices

Tyler Durden's picture

One week ago, we reported that even as traders were focusing on the daily headline barrage out of OPEC members discussing whether or not they would cut production (they won't) or merely freeze it (at fresh record levels as Russia reported earlier today) a bigger threat in the near-term will be whether the relentless supply of excess oil will force Cushing, and PADD 2 in general, inventory to reach operational capacity.

As Genscape added in a recent presentation, when looking specifically at Cushing, the storage facility is virtually operationally full (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 have already been denied.

Goldman summarizes the dire near-term options before the industry as follows:

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.

However, while the threat from overproduction on soaring crude inventories, or in other words "supply", has been extensively documented, far less has been said about another just as big problem: "demand", or the potential supply-chain bottleneck that will hit the moment refiners finds themselves flooded with too much unwanted product, in turn telling producers they have to turn oil back simply because they have no more capacity.

Is this possible? It's already happening.

As the WSJ reports in a piece titled "The Big New Threat to Oil Prices: A Glut of Gasoline", refineries in the U.S. Midwest are losing their thirst for oil, posing a new risk for the battered crude market. The Midwest accounts for nearly a quarter of the crude processed in the U.S. and is home to shale producers that have few other outlets for their oil. But refiners there are already swimming in gasoline and other fuel, forcing them to cut back production until the excess can be worked off.

In other words, not enough intermediate demand in the supply-chain with the result the same as oversupply: more crude oil is available in the market, worsening a glut that has been undermining oil prices for the past year and a half. As the WSJ adds, "with U.S. crude inventories at the highest level in more than 80 years, some storage hubs have little room left to store oil."

This means that storage hubs are now being hit on both sides: from excess production in a global market oversupplied by 3 million barrels daily, and from collapsing demand by the refiners for whom operating at current prices has become uneconomical. The result is that refinery production capacity, while already running at record levels for this time of the year, has tumbled from 98.2% a month ago to just 92.9% last week.

This drop is significant because, as the WSJ explains, it marks the first time several refineries in the region have opted to reduce activity for economic reasons— a marked change after more than a year of refiners processing as much crude as possible.

Here is the problem illustrated: gasoline stocks are literally off the charts in terms of the past 10 year min-max range:


... as refineries operate at a record pace for this time of the year...


... while gasoline demand is well within its past decade range:


Which means refining production has no choice but to decline, which is precisely what it is doing. Three examples:

  • CVR Refining LP is among the companies that have scaled back. The company said recently that it reduced runs at its 70,000-barrels-a-day refinery in Wynnewood, Okla., by as much as 10,000 barrels a day. “It doesn’t make sense to process something when you’re not making anything on it,” Chief Executive Jack Lipinski said during a Feb. 18 earnings call.
  • HollyFrontier Corp. said Wednesday that it has trimmed production at refineries in Kansas and New Mexico due to lower margins.
  • PBF Energy Inc. Chief Executive Tom Nimbley said during a conference call on Feb. 11 that the industry “turned the dials to make more gasoline” in the last quarter of 2015 and overshot demand. “The gasoline is not going to the consumer,” he said. “It’s going into a tank.”

The first immediate consequence of overproduction are dropping margins as refiners try to sell their product into a glutted market, and sure enough refining margins are lower throughout the country this year, including in the Gulf Coast region, where more than 50% the country’s refining capacity is concentrated. But refiners there have more choices when it comes to buying crude oil and can substitute cheaper options if they become available. And they can put fuel on tankers to sell overseas if supplies build up too much.

In other areas, there are fewer viable options: recent cutbacks have been enough to nudge gasoline prices higher in the Midwest, though it’s still cheap in some places: Gas was selling for as low as $1.11 a gallon on Wednesday in Granite Falls, Minn., according to Gasbuddy.com. Gasoline futures for March delivery rose 4.6% on Wednesday to $1.0104 a gallon, up from a seven-year low hit earlier this month.

Which again brings us to the most important commercial hub in the US, located in the heart of the Midwest in Cushing, Oklahoma.

"Many industry players and analysts think refiners will ramp up production after spring maintenance and they expect activity to pick up in the summer as cheap gasoline spurs Americans to take more road trips. But for producers in the Midwest and Canada, any decline in Midwest refining activity is worrisome. The region is home to the crucial oil storage hub at Cushing, Okla.—the delivery point for the U.S. oil futures contract."

Sellers in the futures market can either deliver physical crude or buy futures to offset their obligations. A lack of storage space can force buyers out of the market and supplies in Cushing are at their highest level ever. Analysts warn U.S. oil futures could fall further as Cushing nears full capacity.

This is precisely what we have been warning about for months, or as Paul Horsnell, global head of commodities research at Standard Chartered puts it, "There’s a feeling of various bits of ice cracking all at once" in the oil market, with both crude-oil and gasoline inventories at extremely high levels... People are worried about a short-term issue, particularly in the U.S., particularly at Cushing."

The good news is that we are likely very close to the worst case scenario playing out: refiners are unlikely to start buying more crude in the coming weeks. Instead, many will begin seasonal maintenance ahead of the busy summer-driving season. That could leave some oil producers scrambling to find places to store their output. Prices in some regions might have to drop sharply to justify the cost of shipping the oil to where it can be stored.

Which means there are just two options: find some undiscovered storage, or hope demand picks up.

On the first, there is always hope: “we’ll just look for every other nook and cranny throughout North America to stuff crude oil into,” said Andy Lipow, president of consulting firm Lipow Oil Associates in Houston. “The market is just not going to like it."

However, it is the second that is the biggest wildcard: refiners profit on the difference between oil prices and fuel prices. Oil prices have dropped 70% since mid-2014 to around $32 a barrel currently, but robust demand for gasoline kept prices at the pump from falling as quickly last year, boosting refiner margins. However, analysts question whether demand will increase strongly this year, especially given broader concerns about sluggish economic growth. 

Which brings us to the punchline: on a four-week average basis, U.S. gasoline demand fell in January compared with the year before, according to Energy Information Administration estimates.

This despite the alleged increase in US consumer purchasing power or the so-called "tax-savings" from low gasoline prices, which should have boosted overall gasoline demand.

It has not.

Which is why with the market having debated the supply issue for over a year, and overanalyzed the OPEC and non-OPEC supply question to death, what virtually nobody has discussed is the just as important demand side of the equation, perhaps because nobody dares to admit the obvious: the much needed rebound in demand is just not there.

If that is indeed the case, expect a sharp, violent move lower in the price of oil in the coming weeks as the fundamental oil reality finally catches up with the imaginary world of stop-hunting, momentum-igniting, algorithmic daytraders.

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0b1knob's picture

Adjusted for inflation, the price of oil is still a LONG way from a low.


Nice double bottom at $13 per barrel?

I need more asshats's picture

Jesus this is serious. I feel sorry for those who are long like Kyle B. He's going to get hammered.

tc06rtw's picture

 …  They’re all just waitin’ for       the wealth to come back.

DeadFred's picture

How much space is in the strategic reserve? At $20 a barrel it might be worth topping off.

vollderlerby's picture

Nope, we only fill er up at 140 a barrel.  Remember :))

Sorry_about_Dresden's picture

After all, it isn't their money they are spending.

yogibear's picture

Kyle may have already sold. You think he's going to stick around when oil starts overflowing? Storage facilities say no to further output.

I need more asshats's picture

Good point. Kyle is infamous for his fake reverse wealth strategy. He buys crude oil and makes a big production giving interviews and bemoaning this-n-that while he's actually cornering the crude by-product market making us all pay out the fucking nose for our glue and resins. Fucker!

The Merovingian's picture

Indeed, 'book talking' 101. I really do like Kyle and his talks are fascinating and well grounded. But, his supposed 'magnanimous looking out for the little guy' leanings stop when it comes to actually losing any of his or his client's money. Same as it ever was. We're on our own in this dog eat dog world and all of us little folks are wearing milk-bone underwear.

Eeyores Enigma's picture

The solution to all of our converging constraints is to make everything cost a million dollars.

That way everyone is making millions when they sell....what ever everyone sells, and because everyone is then a millionare they can afford everything.

Problem solved.

Tyler Durden's picture

We are delighted to see that what we have failed against since 2009 namely the wanton creation of bubbles by central banks and their destructive trickle down effects on the rest of society has finally filtered through to the more mainstream elements

Pa Kettle's picture

"has finally filtered through to the more mainstream elements"

In the immortal words of C. W. Moss: "Dirt in the fuel line. Just blowed it away."

algol_dog's picture

Exactly. Case anyone (hint: FED) can't figure out where all the deflation is coming from ....

fattail's picture

He didn't even mention googles robot army, $20,000 strawberry picking robots, or 3D printing.  Nice article.  I have been thinking similar thoughts but could not put it all together.

OldPhart's picture

Damn, Tyler, only three comments to you.  You probably should come out and play with us a lot more here on the block.  There's idjits and smart people out in the comments and you should pay attention to what their sayin' (just sayin')  We all know that you're busy on the next link/article.  But instead of having that intern purge all of our posts, have her ass engage the SH community, directly.

Give us our sacrificial lamb.  Bring out Barrabis!

commishbob's picture

@algol_dog Fantastic article, thanks for sharing. 

TheCentralScrutinizer's picture

Wasn't this once known as "Supply Side Economics"?.. snark, snark.


MSimon's picture

Explain the Tulip Mania and how you would have prevented that?




Things don't work the way they used to. Farm labor demand has declined drastically. Some skills are not worth what they used to be. It will take a while to get used to it.


This is called the bottom of the Kondratieff Cycle. The INs are going broke and the OUTs are not yet strong enough to take up the slack. The last bottom happened in 1929. Add 80 years and it is 2009. Odds are things will start rising soon. Provided we can let the buggy whip companies go broke. We are getting close to that.


The worst economic idea going around at this time is TBTF.

Wrascaly Wabbit's picture

Sanity does exist, great article.

BullyBearish's picture

Again, they've gotten themselves into a NoWayOut situation:

They want prices to rise so they must either increase demand and/or cut supply...since they CAN'T increase demand except by giving gasoline away, they'll have to decrease supply.  BUT, as soon as they do the prices will start to rise and of course new supply will come online to take advantage of higher prices. 

The A$$holes just don't understand that when you take everyone's money away from them, they can't buy your $hit!

Peter Pan's picture

I was on a plane maybe twenty years ago when I heard the follwoing exchange on a comedy program. It looks like the joke has become reality.


Friend A: You can't have everything?

Friend B: Why not?

Friend A: Where would you put it?

Yen Cross's picture

 Show me the underground storage facilities?

Soul Glow's picture

The ones that leak or the ones that don't?

willwork4food's picture

I hear that there's a nice spot on a mountain near LA that nobody's using lately...

OldPhart's picture

Well, since they stopped the leakage...the biggest cow-fart in history.

Since I work at a dirt factory, I'm all for squaring up Mt Wilson in concrete. Paths become stairs and the mountain lions can roam skid row.  (A lot of meat hangs there).

Yen Cross's picture

 That's my boy. ;-D

 Show us, all the tankers parked in "never ---never" land?


 * BTW, buy some copper. lol ( support you local Chinese ghost city)

warsev's picture

Suspect you're not far from the truth. No official data to back this up, but I'm seeing fuel tank trucks topping off the local gas stations far more often than usual. No, the stations aren't selling more gas. Just storing more onsite, I suspect.

ebear's picture

A typical modern gas station has about 50K gals. of storage. That's just over 1000 bbl. Not gonna make much difference.

My guess is some fuel haulers have laid off the night shift (day shift being the senior staff) so you're seeing more going in by day.

Fuel demand is seasonal. Summer driving rush, followed by winter heating oil rush. Slow in between. In the past, oil co's kept their drivers on and either reduced the work hours, or simply paid 10 hrs to work 8 on the understanding that you didn't bitch when it got busy. Vacations were scheduled around those peaks as well. Now they just lay you off, or more correctly, the contractor lays you off, since most oil majors divested their fleets in the 80's and 90's.

Employee retention was the main issue back then. It costs a lot to train someone on tankers and if you laid them off, you might never see them again. Today, not so much. Tankers still pay more (for obvious reasons) and there's nowhere to go anyway with the trucking industry in a slump, so laid off is how it works now.

Something else that's changed: If you have previous experience, some fuel haulers will now take you on part-time. Unheard of in the past. Good way to top up your retirement, if you don't mind being hated by the full-timers who've lost their overtime.

10 years in trucking, 8 hauling fuel. I went back a couple of years ago but it wasn't fun anymore, so I quit.

stant's picture

She's rolling over guys, won't make it to the elections this time.

No Half Measure's picture

Agreed, media and Fed no longer care about “The First Black President”.  Notice you have not seen much of him since last year. 

Barry is trying to jawbone Yellen into buying more of those oil contracts to keep the markets and economy pumped up.  In turn, another Fed created bubble waiting to pop.

 Thanks BHO and all you central bankers out there!



Skiprrrdog's picture

The first 'half-black' president (from the waist up)...there, fixed it for you...

new game's picture

fort knox vaults.

spanish inquisition's picture

The dumbest thing I can think of is pumping it down the North Dakota fracking holes to store excess oil.

So we should see a proposal in a few months.

Holy Roller Empire's picture

How about running the Alaska pipeline in reverse?

The Duke of New York A No.1's picture

Have no FEAR ... becuase the PPT is HERE .... and will be engineering OIL RALLIES anytime the price approaches $30.

Nobody For President's picture

I think the mighty PPT will be unable to put much lipstick on this pig.

Black swan - a mideast war that spreads to the Saudi's and takes out most of their Eastern oil pumping capacity - one good bomb squadron run should do it.

The Duke of New York A No.1's picture

The powers of the PPT were magnificantly displayed this week everytime Oil approached $30 .... I think the PPT has this one figured out now - IE: defend the $30 mark in Oil.

o r c k's picture

I wonder if the PPT would like a pre-tour of their prison cells. After all, it's how they'll be spending the rest of their lives. (no joke-no sarc.)

Dragon HAwk's picture

I honestly can't figure out why at least three groups haven't already tried that

TrustbutVerify's picture

What a great time to buy a small high mpg car - by, perhaps, even going upscale.  The fools market of poor mpg is probably going through the roof.  High MPG cars are likely available with good deals.  

With gasoline prices as low as they are, I wonder if Americans are willing to cut their monthly auto fuel bills EVEN FURTHER by buying a higher mpg car.   


BarkingCat's picture

Fuck that!!!  Bring back the Hummer!!!


/sarc  (sort of)

TrustbutVerify's picture

LOL...I was just thinking about the spiral deflation that will follow the ongoing salary deflation spiral. Why not get ahead of it?  

fattail's picture

With the bonus secondary affect of sucking more money out of the pockets of humanity's enemys, the pyscopaths int he middle east.

Holy Roller Empire's picture

When oil does finally go back up, and it will, the inflation rate will spike so much it'll knock the knickers off all the grandmas and there'll be a revolution.