Several media reports from the past couple of days have also begun to sow some doubt about how much longer the rising demand-led rally narrative can be sustained. A renewed surge in COVID-19 cases in the U.S., an out of control situation in other countries combined with the recent scare in Beijing all very clearly highlighting that the invisible enemy has not yet been defeated. And while governments will use lockdowns measures as a very last resort due to the destructive impact on already reeling economies, these developments may still impact how we collectively behave in the public space.
Reuters: China hits brakes on crude imports after buying frenzy
WSJ (Paywall): Petroleum Refiners Pose Hurdle to Oil’s Recovery
Reuters: India's oil imports in May sink to lowest in over eight years: trade
Reuters report that China is likely to see a slowdown in the record pace of crude oil imports witnessed during the second quarter. Strong demand from independent refineries are likely to slow on a combination of storage facilities filling up with cheap crude oil, the recent rally in Brent crude oil back above $40/b and not least the prospect for fuel demand, following the latest outbreak in Beijing, being exposed to a second wave of lockdowns.
If confirmed the slowdown in demand is going to occur just as the current OPEC+ deal to curb production expires. A prolonged period of keeping production low are likely to challenge to the individual resolve of members of the group, some of which are desperate to increase production and revenues.
In the U.S. meanwhile the WSJ reports that refineries are struggling to make ends meet due to weak margins. The so-called 321 crack spread which reflects the profitability of refining three barrels of WTI crude oil into two barrels of gasoline and one barrel of ULSD (ultra-low-sulfur diesel) currently trades around $13/b, almost one-third below the seasonal average price. Weak profitability due to weak demand could drive lower output in order to avoid a further spike in fuel stocks.
The consequence being lower demand for crude oil and with that rising stock levels, not least considering the prospect of U.S. oil producers beginning to increase production. A development that can only be solved either by lower crude oil prices and/or stronger demand. The latter potentially not happening anytime soon with the pandemic refusing to loosen its grip. The article finish with this warning from Energy Aspect: “If summer fuel demand falls short of expectations, refiners will sell crude they bought in anticipation of a recovery”.
Finally the impact of a slower-than-expected pickup in demand is also being felt in India. Just like China, refineries have taken advantage of low prices and during April filled their tanks. While a pickup in fuel demand is expected over the coming months the pandemic’s grip on the economy cannot be ignored and may slow that process and with that demand from one of the world’s top importers.
Later today at 14:30 GMT the U.S. Energy Information Administration will publish its “Weekly Petroleum Status Report” or in short, its stockpile report. The American Petroleum Institute last night published a mixed report with crude oil stocks rising to another record while product stocks both fell.