The average gallon of gasoline in the U.S. will cost less than $3 this weekend for the first time in nearly four years, with more than 60% of all U.S. stations selling gas for less than $3/gallon, according to AAA.
"We're going to continue going down, and by Thanksgiving I'm seeing $2.80 a gallon" before stabilizing into early 2015, oil analyst Andy Lipow tells CNBC, noting that gasoline futures are tumbling, which will be passed on to consumers over the next few weeks.
Lipow remains wary of a potential market surprise if Saudi Arabia decides to cut production, "since the market thinks that OPEC is going to do nothing."
"We believe that OPEC will no longer act as the first-mover swing producer and that U.S. shale oil output will be called upon to fill this role,” says Goldman, cutting its 2015 Q1 oil price forecasts by $15 per barrel - WTI to $75, Brent to $85. "Our forecast also reflects the realization of a loss of pricing power by core-OPEC.”
The Goldman team believes OPEC's largest members - rather than responding to price declines by cutting production - are attempting to defend market share by reducing prices.
Crude inventories rose 7.1M barrels for the week ended October 17, according to the EIA, vs. expectations for a 2.7M jump. Helping boost inventories were fewer refinery runs - down 113K barrels per day with utilization rates dropping 140 basis points to 86.7%. In the Midwest, utilization rates are the lowest for this point in the year since 2010.
WTI crude oil last week briefly dropped under $80 per barrel for the first time since the summer of 2012, and it's testing that level again today, -2.9% to $80.36. USO -2.4%
Gasoline (UGA -2.2%) stockpiles fell 1.3M barrels vs. expectations for a 1M barrel drop, and distillates (UNH -0.8%) rose 1M barrels vs. expectations for a 1.3M barrel decline.
A little discussed reason the stock market may have hit bottom and started to recover: The realization that the lowest oil prices in four years will provide a stimulus of more than $1T to global economies, according to Citigroup.
“A reduction in oil prices also results in a reduction in prices across commodities, starting with natural gas, but also including copper, steel and agriculture,” says Ed Morse, the bank's head of global commodities research.
Alas, some big banks say the collapse in oil is nearly over, but much will depend on whether OPEC supports the price by cutting production, as is the norm, or protects its market share by keeping production steady.
Can sliding crude oil and product prices be spun as an economic growth-stimulating move yet? Down another 2.2% in early action, WTI crude drops below $80 per barrel for the first time since the early summer of 2012.
Heading into the winter, heating oil (NYSEARCA:UHN) at $2.43 per gallon has dipped below that summer 2012 price to its lowest level since late 2010.
In a bear market any news will do, and IEA earlier slashed its outlook for oil demand - with expected growth in 2015 now about 300K barrels per day less than previously estimated.
WTI crude (NYSEARCA:USO) is down 4.2% to $82.25 per barrel, the weakest print since late-June 2012. As the country moves into heating season, heating oil (NYSEARCA:UHN) - down 3.3% today to $2.47 per gallon - is also at its lowest since the early summer of 2012. The U.S. Gasoline Fund (UGA -3%).
Carving out a moderate advance, the major averages are getting no help from the energy sector (XLE -0.5%).
Calling a bottom is a fool's game and macro conditions continue to weigh, but oil - down another 1.15% today to $84.84 per barrel - is looking good on a risk-reward basis, say analysts Adam Longson and Elizabeth Volynsky.
"While fundamentals have been poor through much of the summer and fall, much of the last leg of downside has simply been a result of financial flows, sentiment and macro fears. Physical markets are strengthening, with more improvement ahead."
The team says analysts are too concerned with demand for gasoline and heating oil and thus missing the big picture of a strong long-term demand for crude. There's no sign, they say, of a sharp decline in demand outside of Europe, Japan, and Mexico (i.e. the U.S. and China are still gobbling it up).
“From a crude standpoint, OPEC is right to expect a material improvement in demand."
The path of least resistance for crude oil remains down, and the selling continues following yesterday's losses amid plunging stocks, lowered growth forecasts from the IMF, and the EIA cutting its oil consumption estimates for this year and next.
One month ago, the EIA called for international consumption of 91.55M barrels/day in 2014 and 92.89M in 2015. The latest forecast says 91.47M and 92.71M, respectively.
In other news, oil coming from the Bakken Shale boom might have another large customer as companies are plowing ahead with rail depots in California which will allow that state's refiners to take advantage of cheaper U.S. supplies.
Ethanol futures plunged 28% in September as falling domestic demand left U.S. producers with the largest inventories since March 2013, sending stock prices for some ethanol makers reeling recently following big gains earlier in the year; shares of Green Plains (NASDAQ:GPRE), one of the biggest U.S. producers, slid 16% in September, while Pacific Ethanol (NASDAQ:PEIX) plunged 40%.
Ethanol prices have fallen for much of this year because the price of corn plummeted due to a record crop last year and expectations for an even larger one this year; industry margins fell to ~$0.22/gal. in late September, down from an all-time high of $2.04/gal. in April, but "ethanol margins have largely bottomed out for the short term and will likely rebound in the next three to six months due to exports," says Citi analyst Aakash Doshi.
Producers are cutting output, with U.S. ethanol production falling to a six-month low of 881K bbl/day in the week ended Sept. 26 EIA says; transportation snags this winter also could send prices climbing again.
Plants typically schedule maintenance in September and October when units move from maximizing gasoline output to producing winter fuels.
Examples: Maintenance has begun at Total’s (NYSE:TOT) 225K bbl/day Port Arthur, Tex., refinery, Phillips 66’s (NYSE:PSX) Lake Charles refinery is conducting planned maintenance, and Motiva Enterprises' Norco, La., refinery began planned work this week.
The average in Springfield, Mo., already is below $3, and oil analyst Tom Kloza believes "there will be more, many more" - but not in high-priced states such as California and New York, which likely will keep the overall U.S. average above $3.
Falling pump prices have been temporarily halted, as wholesale gasoline prices are rising as refineries in eastern Canada and Texas have been forced to shut units for unplanned repairs at a time when other plants are conducting seasonal maintenance.
But prices should be headed back down sometime in October, and gasoline had a head start this year as prices entered September at their lowest level for the beginning of the month in four years.
Energy stocks, especially refiners, are taking a beating following the latest EIA inventory report that said gasoline stockpiles rose by 2.4M barrels last week, helping send U.S. crude oil futures to 16-month lows (-1.2% to $91.61/bbl) and Brent crude to 17-month lows (-1.1% to $98.02).
The report is bearish given the large increases in refined product inventories; "even though the crude drawdown was close to expectations, it seemed to disappoint," Again Capital's John Kilduff says.
The EIA report followed the agency’s updated demand growth report issued yesterday and this morning’s release of OPEC’s report on the oil market; both see lower demand growth this year and next.
Oil majors are mostly lower: XOM -0.6%, CVX -1.4%, COP -0.3%, but BP (+2.9%) and RDS.A (+1%) are higher.
Spot gasoline in the Chicago region was $0.12/gal. above October futures on the Nymex, up from a $0.725 premium yesterday, while ultra low sulfur diesel rose by $0.275 to a $0.03 discount to Nymex futures and jet fuel jumped $0.65 to a $0.14 premium.
The extent of the damage at BP's 105K bbl/day hydrotreater is not immediately clear, analysts are saying.
Crude rallied hard into the close on Friday, perhaps over worry of some geopolitical blow-up over the weekend, but - with no blow-up forthcoming - it's resumed its slide, off 1.4% to $96.04 per barrel - right around the lowest since late January.
"The world has changed," says energy market analyst Daniel Dicker, noting conflicts in Russia/Ukraine, Iraq, and Syria, along with destabilization in Libya and Egypt - had they happened a few years back - would have sent prices soaring. What's different today, he says, is the exit from trading by the large investment banks. "This has taken an enormous amount of speculative steam out of the oil trade."
“Despite armed conflict in Libya, Iraq and Ukraine, the oil market today looks better supplied than expected, with an oil glut even reported in the Atlantic basin," says the International Energy Agency in its monthly report.
Alongside the bearish supply outlook, the IEA cut its global demand forecast for this year by 180K barrels per day to 1M. Demand is expected to rise to 1.3M barrels per day next year.
WTI crude is down 0.9% to $97.19, its lowest price since February. USO -0.6% premarket