Crude seeks support from seasonal demand strength Crude seeks support from seasonal demand strength Crude seeks support from seasonal demand strength

Crude seeks support from seasonal demand strength

Commodities 5 minutes to read
Ole Hansen

Head of Commodity Strategy

Key points

  • Crude oil continues to trade within a narrowing range, supported by OPEC+ production curbs, and robust summer demand

  • Investors have enjoyed a strong H1-2024 return, not least due to a beneficial backwardated curve structure

  • Focus on the demand components in today's US stock report as well as Friday's PCE inflation print

Crude oil continues to trade within a narrowing range, which during the past year has resulted in a succession of lower highs and higher lows. In fact, since Q4-2022 the WTI futures contract has been averaging close to USD 79 per barrel, just a couple of dollars below the current price, and overall it highlights how production restraint by OPEC+ since April last year has helped deliver a period of stable prices, most likely at lower levels than originally anticipated by the group, many of which need prices of Brent, the global benchmark, to trade closer to and preferably above USD 90 per barrel in order to balance their budgets.

From an investor perspective, the crude oil market continues to yield a better return than what the change in the spot price is indicating. While the spot month futures contract in WTI crude trades up around 14% year-to-date, the total return which includes the current positive impact of rolling expiring contracts into the next at a lower price, so-called backwardation (see below for explanation), has reached 19.2%. It highlights the fact that as long as a given market remains relatively tight an investment can still yield a return while the spot price remains range bound.

Source: Saxo

From a relatively weak start to the year amid concerns about Chinese demand and the negative impact of high funding costs following the most aggressive rate hiking campaign by the US Federal Reserve in decades, the crude oil market has since moved higher with most of the major movements being driven by the ebb and flow of a geopolitical risk premium, and with that the buying and selling from hedge funds looking for momentum. Something they have struggled to find during the past year, and which is reflected through data which recently showed the net long in Brent and WTI briefly falling below 200,000 contracts or 200 million barrels, to a level only seen twice during the past decade. The subsequent bounce has in part been supported by traders re-establishing long positions while closing loss-making short positions.

Later today at 1430 GMT, the Energy Information Administration will as per usual publish their weekly crude and fuel stock report, and while surveys are pointing to an across-the-board stockpile drop, the American Petroleum Institute last night reported increases in both crude and gasoline stocks (see table insert below). We are currently going through the peak demand season, with elevated fuel demand being driven by increased mobility during the vacation season, as well as increased demand for fuel to generate cooling, not least across the Middle East where a country like Saudi Arabia typically sees its summer crude oil burn peak around 700,000 barrels per day.

With that in mind, the focus in today’s EIA report will likely be concentrated on implied demand data for the three major fuels, gasoline, diesel and jet fuel. In the previous week, gasoline demand on a four-week basis reached last summer’s levels, while jet fuel demand rose to near 2019 levels. Apart from this report, traders are also focusing on the dollar ahead of Friday’s key PCE inflation print, multiple geopolitical developments, including the presidential election in Iran this Friday where the choice is between a number of hardliners supported by Iran’s supreme leader Khamenei and Pezeshkian, the only reformist on the ballot paper.

Backwardation and contango explained

Backwardation is a market condition in which the futures or forward price of a commodity is lower than the spot price. In other words, contracts for future delivery are priced lower than the current market price of the commodity. This scenario is often seen in markets where the commodity is in short supply or there is a high demand for immediate delivery. Total return in commodities includes both the spot return (change in the price of the commodity itself) and the roll return (the gain or loss associated with rolling over futures contracts). In a backwardated market, the roll return is typically positive, which can enhance the total return for investors. This contrasts with contango, where the futures price is higher than the spot price, often resulting in a negative roll yield and reducing the total return.

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