Oil Oil Oil

Oil drops as hawkish Fed drives fresh demand concerns

Ole Hansen

Head of Commodity Strategy

Summary:  Crude oil’s bounce from a six-month low has faded fast with risk appetite across markets taking a hit after Fed chair Powell's hawkish speech once again raised concerns that the central banks aggressive stance towards combatting runaway inflation will drive down growth and demand for crude oil and fuel products. In addition, the energy market has to deal with long liquidation into a low liquidity market, reduce gas-to-fuel focus as EU gas prices drop as well as Iraq, Libya and Iran developments.


Crude oil’s bounce from a six-month low has faded fast following Friday’s hawkish message from Jerome Powell, the Federal Reserve Chairman, which once again raised concerns that the central banks aggressive stance towards combatting runaway inflation would mean lower growth and with that lower demand for crude oil and fuel products. The battle between these macro concerns continues to battle with micro developments, the majority of which still point to tightness during the coming months.

In Europe, the gas and power crisis continue with punitively high prices attracting substitution demand into fuel products like diesel and heating oil. In the short-term the price of gas into the autumn month will continue to be dictated by Russian flows, and not least whether Gazprom (and Putin) as announced will resume flows on the Nord Stream 1 pipeline following the three-day maintenance shutdown that ends at 0100 GMT on September 3.

Other developments currently impacting the market:

  • China’s continued battle with Covid infections which is currently found in 31 provinces, and which has led to fresh curbs being implemented, among others in two of southern China’s most economically vibrant areas.
  • Deadly turmoil in Baghdad after Moqtada Al-Sadr, a prominent cleric, decided to resign from politics, thereby deepening a political crisis that has left the country without a government since last October’s election. For now, the clashes have not spread to oil-rich area and exports from one of OPEC’s biggest producers remain uninterrupted.
  • Clashes in Libya’s capital Tripoli over the weekend which left at least 32 people dead have raised risks of a civil war in Libya, a very volatile producer which has seen its output swing between 0.7 and 1.2 million barrels per day during the past year.
  • On the supply side, the market will be watching the impact of the EU embargo on Russian oil which will begin impacting supply from December and the 180-million-barrel release, at a rate of one million barrel per day, from US Strategic Reserves that look set to run until October 21. In the following months the US government plans to buy back 60 million barrels, a decision that is likely to be delayed given the prolonged war in Ukraine. Finally, an Iran nuclear deal has yet to be reached, but if successful it could lead to millions of barrels of on and offshore stored oil being released into the market.

WTI Crude Oil: Following Monday’s short squeeze the subsequent sell-off has forced recently established longs to reduce their exposure. Developments that from a technical perspective have opened the risk of a return towards key support around the mid-August low at $85.5/b.

Source: Saxo Group

Lack of liquidity and speculative positions being wrongfooted have both added to the latest gyration which saw the biggest jump in six weeks on Monday being  followed by a near 9% two-day drop. In the week to August 23, hedge funds added 80k lots of crude oil and fuel exposure, the biggest weekly increase since January, and the latest tumble may have forced many too hastily exit those recently established and now loss-making positions.

With the summer holiday driving season winding up we are seeing gasoline refinery margins trading sharply lower while demand for diesel as a substitute for expensive gas has supported diesel margins, both in the US and especially in Europe. However, since Friday’s peak in EU gas prices we have seen softer but still elevated margins there as well.

The weekly oil and fuel stock report from the US Energy Information Administration will be watched closely given its frequency and with that the ability to provide an up-to-date snapshot of the current supply and demand situation across crude oil and fuel. Last night the API reported a 600k barrels increase in oil stocks and a combined 5.1 million barrels drop in gasoline and distillates stocks. The report will also provide the EIA’s assessment of production, which has been adjusted lower for the past two weeks to 12 million barrels a day, and somewhat short of the EIA’s latest end of year forecast of 12.45 million. Crude and distillates exports will also be watched after the combined figure hit a record last week.

As per usual I will post the charts and tables on Twitter once the report has been released at 14:30 GMT.

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