Tag: euro

West Michigan’s higher prices justified, the pain will continue…

First off: Read this post thoroughly if you want to find out WHY prices are justified.

A brief thank you to Tom Kloza for taking the time out of his day (Publisher @ OPIS) to respond to a few questions I had.

I now understand and can say that I know why Grand Rapids (and all of Michigan) are suffering from higher gas prices than the national average (currently at $3.66/gal)

It all started back around August 11. Grand Rapids prices had been closer to the national average, and then suddenly on the 11th, the difference between NYMEX gasoline and our local rack prices started their disconnect.

Here’s an image (graph provided by GasBuddy, edited by me) to show you exactly what’s been going on:

If you notice, the disconnect is getting worse over time. On August 11, Grand Rapids was quite close to the national average. Around Aug. 15, we had a difference of about 15-cents. On Aug. 23, that shot to 19-cents. Then yesterday it jumped to 25-cents (more like 30-cents since all the stations reset at once here)

On the subject of this matter, people have been convinced we’re being gouged. At first it would appear so, and I was ready to believe it. In haste perhaps, some were even trying to tie the price of oil (same price months ago when gas was 60+ cents cheaper) to the price of gasoline. In my years of doing this, experience has taught me that oil and gasoline prices can never be tied together.

After receiving a response from Mr. Kloza telling me briefly about struggles with getting gasoline here, I went digging. The content below is what I found:

NEW YORK, Aug 11 Reuters – Gasoline differentials in the the Midwest and U.S. Gulf Coast were expected to continue climbing this week as refinery outages, tight inventories and low imports underpin values, dealers said. The latest in a slew of unplanned refinery upsets is a reduction of rates at Marathon’s 222,000 barrel per day Catlettsburg, Kentucky refinery after a crude oil pipeline rupture on Sunday, August 10.

Reduced rates at the refinery are expected to further boost already strong differentials for gasoline in the Midwest, adding to a decrease in gasoline supply in the region after last week’s an outage at Citgo Lemont’s FCC.

“The Magellan system inventories of gasoline have dropped 600,000 barrels since August 1st as new barrels were diverted the St. Louis and Chicago,” one Midwest broker said.

“At 18 days of supply coverage the system is not yet critically short gasoline… (Group Three) must compete for barrels against Chicago for these barrels, so more strength is likely.”

Gulf Coast gasoline differentials were also expected to be supported by a number of refinery upsets from last week.

Lyondell’s gasoline-making fluid catalytic cracking unit at it’s Houston, Texas refinery had an upset last week, and a company spokesman said the unit was still running, but did not specify if it is currently at full rates.

The restart of Citgo’s Corpus Christi, Texas refinery after a power outage last week is expected to last through Wednesday of this week, according to a filing with state regulators.

Gulf Coast gasoline differentials are expected to be further supported by sinking inventories of the motor fuel due to lower imports.

In the New York Harbor, values for conventional gasoline are generally seen tracking the Gulf. But the upside for reformulated gasoline may be capped due to higher inventories of the fuel due to weak blending economics.

After reading that, I found another news story dated more recently, September 5:

NEW YORK (Dow Jones)–U.S. refiners pushed gasoline output to record highs in the days before Hurricane Gustav shuttered operations along the key Gulf Coast.

Many plants are beginning to ramp up operations, but pre-storm oil
inventory data point to several areas of potential supply tightness far
from the Gulf region.

Late Friday, the federal Environmental Protection Agency issued waivers from clean fuel requirements for parts of Georgia, Alabama and North Carolina, and extended waivers in Louisiana until Sept. 15 to “allow for greater flexibility for the fuel distribution system to support an adequate supply of gasoline.” Lost refinery output last week alone could be on the order of 20 million barrels of gasoline and other products.

Power outages to plants and pipelines complicate the matter and spread the problem beyond the region. Midwest refiners – notwithstanding a surge to record-high gasoline output last week -face a supply shortfall as the Capline pipeline, the 1.2 million barrel-a-day main artery for crude supplies from the Gulf to the heartland, is only just resuming partial operations. The Colonial Pipeline from the Gulf to New Jersey, a crucial link for Northeast U.S. supplies, is running at reduced levels.

During September, shipments of gasoline on the vital carrier averaged 1.2 million barrels a day in the past five years, with distillate flows at around 625,000 barrels a day. At best,
refiners are likely to take at least a week to bring operations back, while offshore output will likely take twice as long to return to pre-storm levels, government officials estimate.

The big loss of refining capacity, relative to shut-in crude output, has helped sharp the steep falloff in prices begun when Hurricane Gustav was shown to be less destructive than Hurricane Katrina in August 2005.

Imports, especially of gasoline, are expected to flow heavily from Europe, where the fuel remains in surplus and the usual seasonal decline in demand may blunt the impact of supply losses. The end of August brings an end to the peak summer gasoline demand season, which was battered by high prices this year.

Michael McNamara, who compiles the SpendingPulse survey for MasterCard Advisors LLC, said U.S. gasoline sales between the end-May Memorial Day and Labor Day dropped 3.9% to around 9.4 million barrels a day, after a year-to-year rise in the peak period in
2007 of 2.4%.

Demand Down For 13th Month

EIA data for the four weeks to Aug. 29 show total U.S. oil demand down 733,000 barrels a day, or 3.5%, from a year ago, at 20.292 million barrels a day. That would be the lowest August demand since 2003 and mark the 13th straight year-to-year drop in monthly oil demand.

Preliminary data show January-August U.S. oil demand is down 847,000 barrels a day from a year ago, the biggest decline in the first eight months since 1981. At 19.9 million barrels a day, demand is the lowest in the period since 2001.

A pre-storm surge in gasoline output in the Midwest of 12.3% pushed regional output to a record 2.55 million barrels a day, and pushed nationwide output to a highest-ever weekly level of 9.422 million barrels a day. In an indicator that says more about sluggish demand than about refining capabilities, domestic output of gasoline
topped demand at the end of August for the first time on records dating back to 1991.

The last time domestic output topped demand in any week was in mid-January. Production exceeded demand by a slim 22,000 barrels a day in the latest week, while a year ago, demand outpaced production by 420,000 barrels a day in the last week in August.

Still, while margins favor a counter-season shift to gasoline output over distillate output, and refiners outside the Gulf Coast have some spare capacity, reliability of crude supplies from the region is vital.

Marathon wants to borrow crude oil from the Strategic Petroleum Reserve for running at two Midwest refineries, but the oil must be shipped through the still-limited Capline, which Shell said it hopes to have fully operational in the coming weekend. Valero said it cut runs at its Tennessee refinery.

Talks EIA warns that some local markets may face supply tightness and potential price jumps. But they won’t likely be enough to reverse the slide in prices in recent days, provided there isn’t any lasting damage to facilities.

Front-month crude has been the cheapest of all listed Nymex contracts in the past 10 days, a price curve that suggests weak near-term demand for crude and potential for a significant stock build, as refiners are rewarded for building inventories at relatively cheap prices now. But, at least in the U.S., Gustav is overriding, at least temporarily, those traditional moves.

So basically, on the 11th of August, a refinery went down due to a pipeline rupture. That pipeline may have well carried crude from the Gulf to the Midwest, so naturally when a pipeline goes out of service, oil delivery is effected. With less oil available to refine, supply takes over. Less supply means higher prices. Now we’re suffering from Gustav, which has also closed delivery of oil to some Midwest refiners. Can’t refine products means less supply, means higher prices. Since places outside the Midwest have alternative ways to get crude, their prices are lower because getting oil isn’t an issue like it is here.

A few words from Tom Kloza’s blog:

As I write this, the price of gasoline in the biggest global bulk market (the U.S. Gulf Coast) is trading for some 60cts gal or more above gasoline futures, or about $3.30 gal late Wednesday afternoon. It appears as though Ike has put some of the largest clusters of U.S. refining in jeopardy.

The last time we saw crude oil prices this cheap, the national average price for gasoline was about $3.25 gal. It’s about 40cts gal higher than that now, and I suspect we’ll see more increases in some markets by the weekend, even if Ike fizzles and cuts a path through rural less populated counties. Chicago is many states removed from Hurricane landfall, but even there, we’ve seen the impact of Gustav as well as the threat from Ike. Refiners have had less crude to run, and wholesale prices there have also moved into the $3.25 gal or higher neighborhood. This explains why some Midwestern towns saw some large retail increases even as network talking heads discussed plunging crude prices.

Most of the upwelling we’ve seen in fuel prices in September is related to Hurricane Gustav. It did not significantly damage refinery infrastructure but it did result in a drop in refinery output of nearly 2-million bbl per day last week (as measured by the Energy Information Administration or EIA today). Those kinks of lost daily output are now being felt in places like Kentucky, Tennessee, Illinois, and especially in states like Florida. Even California isn’t exempt — the state gets some of its very clean gasoline from refineries in the Canadian Maritimes and a key plant in the Virgin Islands. Fuel produced at those plants will probably be diverted to coastal states in the U.S. this month.

Even if Ike misses Texas refinery infrastructure, more kinks are coming, and Americans will inaccurately assume that they are being hosed. Capitalism is at work here – supply is threatened—and buyers outnumber sellers, for the moment.

Basically prices are higher because we’re battling other states to buy the same gasoline. The highest bidder wins because this is supply and demand!

Patrick

Gustav, Hannah, and Tropical formations, oh my!

Note: I decided I had better take a quick break from vacation. I was away hiking in Yellowstone, please forgive me for not posting.

When my phone got service yesterday, I had received numerous voice-mails informing me that a Hurricane “Gustav” had formed and could be effecting gas prices. Unfortunately I’ve been out of the loop- until now.

Gustav looks like it will be a dangerous category three or four when it hits Louisiana later this week. What’s this going to do to gas prices? Well, for the time being, the market is calm. One must realize that after Katrina, refineries and rigs have been much improved when it comes to large hurricanes. Also, refiners haven’t been producing as much gasoline as before Katrina.

With refinery utilization continuing to be much below 90%, any negative impact on Gulf refiners could be offset by all other refiners raising their utilization to 95%+. When Katrina hit in 2005, refinery utilization had been at 97.1%. With utilization THAT high and Katrina flooding refiners, there was no way that other refiners could up their production much. Last week, utilization was a measly 87.3%. Any capacity that goes offline could be offset by other refiners raising production runs.

Also, those refiners in the Gulf area have poured money into making their rigs and refineries better prepared for massive hurricanes. They didn’t just repair their facilities… they made them better.

The market may jump to its senses, but if we don’t see more than a 10-cent gain, you’ll see traders viewing that as a weakness in the market. We’re also helped by a continued gain in the U.S. dollar against the Euro.

It’ll be interesting to see what oil and gas does when trading opens Sunday.

I would definitely stay tuned here… I’ll be home early this week with more information as I receive it. We could see prices rise, but things are calm… for now! I see prices in GR falling to $3.70. Prices may continue their fall until Gustav gets closer to making landfall.

Patrick

A great Friday for oil/gas… dollar strengthens!

After negative news coming from Europe on the euro, the dollar posted a large gain, pushing down commodities on a whole, what a terrific end to a week.

As it stands, oil is down $5bbl to $114.96 and gasoline down 12-cents to $2.87! This may push nationwide prices down another 6-8 cents over the next week, and in the midwest, Ohio could get down to the $3.50s again, although in West Michigan, we may get as low as $3.69. Wholesale prices over the weekend should hold in the $3.60s.

The dollar really has had a turnaround vs. the euro this week and is looking impressive again. The dollar had been at 0.63X euros and now is way up to nearly 0.67 euros! Quite a gain.

I’d hold off on filling up. Also, hoarding gasoline at cheaper prices will actually push prices higher in the long run, so make sure not to get too excited.

Patrick

We’re in a predicament… spiraling downward

Oil is $146 a barrel today.

Want to know why U.S. supplies are OVER 50 million barrels below where they were last year? Want to know why oil prices keep rising? The two are directly connected, and its going to keep getting worse unless the dollar strengthens.

As I said, today oil hit $146- a new record. Why? Supply. OPEC wants you to think they’re supplying the market- and they are. But you see, why would oil companies want to pay $146/barrel to BUILD their inventories and risk getting stuck with a lot of expensive oil OR spend a HUGE amount of money stockpiling oil at these prices?

To get oil stockpiles where they were last year at this time… lets do the math… 53 million barrels is what it would take, multiply by today’s price- $146 and you get $7,738,000,000. It’d cost oil companies $7.7 BILLION dollars to buy 50 million barrels of oil to get stockpiles to last year’s levels. You may say “eh, that’s not that much money for them”… and perhaps you’re right. However, would you rather have oil companies spend the money on buying oil to sit around or spend it on refinery expansions? Its a waste and a HUGE risk for oil companies. If oil prices fell to $73, they’d lose HALF of what they spent on the oil.

Its a huge risk and they’d need the cash flow to be able to buy it. Then we ask WHY would they do this? It’d lower the profit from oil if supply was cushy, lowering their bottom line.

Now we come to OPEC who says supply isn’t the problem. They’re right… to an extent. While they claim they have oil ready for customers, there are no customers willing to buy at such high prices… especially for just the purpose of building oil stockpiles.

Let me just say- the only reason refiners are still producing gasoline is because refining that oil also produces heating oil/diesel, which is making a decent amount of margin for them. If diesel demand drops or if Europe’s demand lowers the refining margin, there will be TWO products that refiners make that are yielding LITTLE TO NO money. Thus refiners will shut part of their refineries resulting in… you guessed it… shorter supplies meaning higher gasoline and diesel prices.

So… we need oil! OPEC has it, but no company wants to buy it and risk storing it and losing value. We’re in a predicament… oil is there, no one wants it, prices are rising because inventories are falling!

Does that make sense?

Patrick

The 2008 Driving Season Begins. What’s in store?

The long awaited 2008 Summer Driving season is now upon us, after a mostly gloomy and cool Memorial Day weekend here in Mid-Michigan. With gasoline prices approaching and surpassing $4, many are asking what’s in store for this Summer… what can I expect, when should I vacation?

This post may be one of my longer posts. Just sit back and read it, you may find some information you didn’t know. I’ll try to cover everything that’s on my mind at this point.

First glance this morning the market was up… but now we’re seeing a good size pullback in the oil and gasoline markets, with crude falling over $3bbl at this writing. Why? I’ll explain.

If you haven’t noticed, we’ve had a significant run-up in prices this past Spring. I suspect the main reasons were the weaker U.S. dollar, higher global demand, and speculation. It’s anyone’s guess what percentage each one of those played in the higher prices, but I’m sure there are a couple factors that I haven’t included that have helped push prices up as well.

$4.19 was the price this weekend if you hadn’t noticed, and many are wondering if this is the highest we’ll see this year. It’d be easy for me to say yes based on past years. In 2006 and 2007 prices for the year peaked in mid-to-late May. However, this year hasn’t been anywhere close to resembling ’06 and ’07. In those years prices climbed more due to actual issues and problems- refinery maintenance, etc. This year, we’ve really not had as much bad news, but the economy has been more the indicator. The worse the economy seems to get, the more oil and gasoline prices rise. You’d think the two would be hand-in-hand, but that’s not the case.

I’m *thinking* that now we’re in driving season, we may see traders pull out as they realize we’re sitting on record high oil prices without a real reason. Supply is remaining constant, Saudi Arabia says they’ll try to pump more oil, and we haven’t really had any refinery issues. Is it time for the market to go back to realizing the fundamentals instead of buying based on speculation?

Refineries have and are in the midst of a huge number of expansions and upgrades. Many older refineries are adding and replacing older equipment that isn’t as efficient. They’re tightening their belts [refineries] to get every penny out of every gallon of gasoline. Since oil companies have been enjoying record profits, they’ve also been spending billions on refinery expansions. Shell is well underway to renovate an existing refinery to near DOUBLE its output. While we won’t see it online for the next couple years, the market should be looking down the road and realizing that output will grow as record profits continue.

Let’s not forget about the Goldman Sachs analysts, Murti and Currie- they’ve predicted record territory for oil the last few years and have been amazingly accurate. Just a week or so ago, they raised their forecast to say the average price of oil in 2008 would be $141 and oil have a “super spike” to $150-$200/bbl. The day they released that forecast, oil prices took a sharp jump, and have continued their climb… not because of OPEC lowering output, or because a refinery shut, but because two men predicted higher oil prices. This is where I’m talking about a return to fundamentals instead of speculation! Anyway, these two men forecasted in 2005 that oil prices would rise to $50-$105 over six to 24 months and were pretty accurate. They then boosted their forecast to $80-$135 in September 2007, even during a seemingly non-existent hurricane season. Still, they re-raised themselves last December, and just weeks ago re-raised again. Just keep in mind WHY Goldman analysts may be doing this… that is, making seemingly high forecasts. They are in the business of selling oil, I consider them an oil broker. They run huge commodity funds, give advice, and trade oil. Wouldn’t you think that to be a HUGE conflict of interest? Almost like going against the Terms of Service of eBay and bidding up your own online auction.

The interesting part of this is that while Goldman analysts have raised their own forecasts, which would provide HUGE profit to oil companies (ExxonMobil, BP, Shell, etc), Goldman has NOT raised their stock outlook for these companies, and they’ve kept their rating on ExxonMobil at “neutral”. Would one think that Goldman might put its money where its mouth is and raise their outlook on these oil companies stocks? Quite interesting. Perhaps Goldman knows that while they enjoy making tons of money off trading oil, one day the bubble will pop. I can’t think of any other reason why Goldman would not raise their outlook on XOM stock [ExxonMobil].

Point here is that this latest rally is pretty much only supported by Goldman, which is like the oil trading god. Perhaps Goldman has been the one fueling the latest rises, buying more oil to push prices up so its analysts are correct. Nothing like using fear to make a profit, which may be what they’re trying to do.

Back to my office chair- I stare at the $3.98’s and $4.19’s that are out in the Midwest.

I’d love to predict lower prices, but the way I see it, any prediction I make will have odds that are worse than buying a Big Game lottery ticket.

However, I’ll do it anyway, and maybe the odds will be much better than a Big Game ticket, but still, I wouldn’t put more than a $20 bet on it.

Summer 2008 outlook:
Gasoline:
Late May prices peak to $4+, slowly decline into early-to-mid June, perhaps as low as $3. Early July will have much of the same, people will be rejoicing when prices come under $3, but that doesn’t look entirely realistic as hurricane season approaches. Traders will begin focusing on any hurricane that develops, and starting in mid-August, we’ll see prices fluctuate quite a bit. If any Category 3 or higher hurricane strikes West of the Mississippi in the Gulf, expect gasoline to jump right back to Spring highs or even higher. If the 2008 hurricane season is a non-event, expect market fundamentals to kick in and we may see a large correction in gasoline prices. I think that with demand slowing late Summer and oil prices due to come back down,
it will boost crack profit, which will entice refiners to make
utilization rates climb all summer leading to a potential collapse in
prices this fall/winter- perhaps as low as $2.50 starting in October and lasting through mid-November.

Diesel:
Prices won’t really pause much as global supplies remain well-below average. Prices may flirt with $5 in the Midwest while nationwide prices rise to near $4.75. Don’t expect high diesel prices to cause a huge demand slowdown, especially with farmers raking in profits growing their fields, feeding their equipment. The U.S. has been exporting a lot of diesel to Europe as well, so our own stockpiles aren’t as cushy as possible. Diesel may fall back to $4.35 as the summer continues, but it won’t last long. Expect diesel to rise substantially if hurricane season is active.

The huge wildcard will continue to be the 2008 Hurricane Season. If it’s more active than usual, be prepared to cancel vacations. If not, it may help push prices lower come late Summer and early Fall.

Obviously things can and will change rapidly, but Ed and I will continue to monitor prices throughout the Summer. We will both need some time off and may miss a prediction here and there, but overall TheGasGame.com will continue to be active!

Patrick

Gasoline continues its slide, wait to fill!

As of this writing, at 11:15am, gasoline is poised for another deep loss (good news) on the wholesale markets. Currently gasoline for May delivery is trading down 8.51 cents PER GALLON. This could mean pump prices locally could drop back into the 3.40’s before any threat of a hike. Oil is also down $2.43 per barrel.

These losses are largely due to the gain in the US Dollar. The Dollar is battling back against the Euro, rising to a five-week high against Europe’s major currency.

As the Dollar continues to build strength, we will see oil and gasoline prices come down to realistic levels.

More as it develops.

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