While the macro-economic outlook remains challenging due to the lower growth outlook and renewed dollar strength, recent developments within the oil market, so-called micro developments, have raised the risk of a rebound. The energy crisis in Europe continues to strengthen, with gas and power prices surging to levels that measured in dollars per barrel of crude oil equivalent equates to $470 and $1,050 per barrel respectively. The latest surge being driven by recent low-water level disruptions on the river Rhine and Gazprom announcing a three-day closure of the Nord Stream 1 pipeline due to maintenance, starting on August 31.
Should Gazprom (Putin) decide for geopolitical reasons to keep the pipeline shut after maintenance ends, the risk of further spikes remains, thereby extending the already wide price gap between gas and crude oil. A development that will further support an already very visible increase in demand for fuel-based product, especially diesel, at the expense of gas. This gas-to-fuel switch was specifically mentioned by the IEA in their August update as the reason for raising their 2022 global oil demand growth forecast by 380k barrels per day to 2.1 million barrels per day. Since the report was published the incentive to switch has increased even more, and the result being sharply higher refinery margins for diesel across the world, led by Europe which so far this month has seen the Brent – Gas Oil (diesel) crack spread jump 55%.
The trigger which eventually sent crude oil higher this week where comments from the Saudi Energy Minister flagging possible cuts to production amid an increased disconnect between falling futures markets and a physical market that has yet to show weakness. While his comment sent the ball rolling, yesterday’s API report gave it an extra spin, resulting in the rally back above $100 per barrel.
A recovery at this point may force money managers to reassess their exposure in Brent and WTI with a potential short-squeeze brewing. During a three-week period to August 16 these speculative traders increased their gross short positions in Brent and WTI by 43k lots to 125k lots, while cutting gross longs by 61k lots to 403k lots, developments that has reduced the net long to 278k lots, the lowest since April 2020.