Phil Flynn is writer of The Energy Report, a daily market commentary discussing oil, the Middle East, American government, economics, and their effects on the world's energies markets, as well as other commodity markets. Contact Mr. Flynn at (888) 264-5665
It was reported that China’s total crude oil imports rose 7.3% in 2020 with record arrival imports in the second and third quarters. Yet last month China’s crude imports fell to the lowest level in more than two years in December. That was the lowest for the month of December since 2018. The slowdown came as it appeared that Chinese refiners had stockpiled enough crude oil at lower prices and will wait to see if prices dip before resuming patches.
Chinese refiners are busy trying to refine heating fuels as winter in Asia is brutal this year. The demand for fuel is driving up prices and there are reports of some shortages. S&P Global reports that China’s northern provinces faced multiple cold waves since December causing energy shortages and forcing utilities to deploy all energy sources available. In the first week of January, Beijing recorded the coldest temperature since 1966 and other provinces hit their lowest mercury level on record.
In Japan they are also having major issues and are reverting back to burning oil to keep people warm. This comes as the spot liquefied natural gas market surges to all-time record highs. S&P Global reports that Asian spot LNG prices have risen to unprecedented levels due to February cargo shortages, transportation bottlenecks, supply outages and record winter temperatures boosting end-user demand. They say that futures signal JKM LNG prices could ease for March delivery but a looming cold snap in the Northern Hemisphere in the US and Europe present significant upside risk for global gas market.
Bloomberg News reports that, “Power generators in Japan such as Tohoku Electric Power Co. recently bought several cargoes of low-sulfur fuel oil for the purpose of direct burning, said traders who asked not to be identified. These supplies can be used in oil-fired power plants, which are typically left in an idled state and utilized only when gas-fed facilities have been maximized. Several other companies including Japanese utilities and trading houses were also seeking cargoes in the spot market this week, they said. LSFO and crude oil used for power generation in Japan need to have an ultra-low sulfur content in order to meet environmental standards.”
This comes as US natural gas production is faltering. The Energy Information Administration (EIA) reports that in its January 2020 Short-Term Energy Outlook (STEO), the U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA) forecasts that annual U.S. crude oil production will average 11.1 million b/d in 2021, down 0.2 million b/d from 2020 as result of a decline in drilling activity related to low oil prices. A production decline in 2021 would mark the second consecutive year of production declines. Responses to the COVID-19 pandemic led to supply and demand disruptions. EIA expects crude oil production to increase in 2022 by 0.4 million b/d because of increased drilling as prices remain at or near $50 per barrel. This dynamic could and should have natural gas rally despite a normal seasonal downtrend and is also supportive for oil. Our base case is that oil demand will rise faster than production.
The EIA Status Report was supportive as refiners ramped up and gas and diesel demand popped. Still big builds in distillates overshadowed a big improvement in jet fuel demand. The EIA showed that U.S. crude oil refinery inputs averaged 14.7 million barrels per day during the week ending which was 274,000 barrels per day more than the previous week’s average. Refineries operated at 82.0% of their operable capacity last week. Gasoline production decreased last week, averaging 7.5 million barrels per day. Distillate fuel production decreased last week, averaging 4.7 million barrels per day .U.S. crude oil imports averaged 6.2 million barrels per day last week, increased by 0.9 million barrels per day from the previous week. Over the past four weeks, crude oil imports averaged about 5.6 million barrels per day, 14.9% less than the same four-week period last year. Total motor gasoline imports (including both finished gasoline and gasoline blending components) last week averaged 383,000 barrels per day, and distillate fuel imports averaged 346,000 barrels per day.
U.S. commercial crude oil inventories (excluding those in the Strategic Petroleum Reserve) decreased by 3.2 million barrels from the previous week. At 482.2 million barrels, U.S. crude oil inventories are about 8% above the five year average for this time of year. Total motor gasoline inventories increased by 4.4 million barrels last week and are about 1% above the five year average for this time of year. Finished gasoline inventories decreased while blending components inventories increased last week. Distillate fuel inventories increased by 4.8 million barrels last week and are about 9% above the five year average for this time of year.
Propane/propylene inventories decreased by 6.7 million barrels last week and are about 12% below the five year average for this time of year. Total commercial petroleum inventories decreased by 9.4 million barrels last week. Total products supplied over the last four-week period averaged 18.8 million barrels a day, down by 5.8% from the same period last year. Over the past four weeks, motor gasoline product supplied averaged 7.8 million barrels a day, down by 11.0% from the same period last year. Distillate fuel product supplied averaged 3.6 million barrels a day over the past four weeks, supply 3.6% from the same period last year. Jet fuel product supplied was down 30.0% compared with the same four-week period last year.
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