The focus in terms of tightness remains the northern hemisphere product market where low stocks of diesel and heating oil continues to raise concerns. The market has been uprooted by the war in Ukraine and sanctions against Russia, a major supplier of refined products, especially to Europe. In addition, the high cost for gas has supported increased switching activity from gas to other fuels, especially diesel and heating oil. This tight market situation was recently made worse by the OPEC+ decision to cut production from next month. While the continued release of US (light sweet) crude from its strategic reserves will support production of gasoline, the OPEC+ production cuts will primarily be provided by Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and the UAE, all producers of the medium/heavy crude which yields the highest amount of distillate.
The current tightness is being reflected through rising refinery crack spreads and sharply higher prompt spreads, the latter signalling the situation is likely to get worse during the northern hemisphere winter. An example being the Nymex ULSD (Heating Oil) contract where the current front month of November trades at an elevated $410 per barrel, but some $45, or 11% below the next month of December.
As long the product market remains this tight the potential for lower crude oil prices seems low. Several refineries, especially in the US are currently undergoing maintenance which has further depleted stocks at a time where exports are running at a record pace. Yesterday the EIA said US exports of oil jumped to a new weekly high above 5.1 million barrels a day and it helped drive overall shipments of oil and fuel products to a fresh peak at 11.4 million barrels per day. Developments that is taking place while the US government continues to pump crude oil into the market from its Strategic Reserves, an increasingly flawed and politically motivated strategy ahead of next month’s mid-term elections, not only because it reduces the ability to respond to another crisis in the future, and more important from a short-term perspective, it is failing to curb prices of gasoline and diesel to the American consumer.