What a year for the energy bears! It was a wild ride between beginning and end which made it a hard year even for the bears, but those that traded disciplined were handsomely rewarded in 2015. Light, sweet crude for January traded below $35 a barrel on the New York Mercantile Exchange, the lowest since February 2009. Brent, the global benchmark, fell below $37 a barrel on ICE Futures Europe, the lowest level since December 2008, and reached parity with WTI even trading over Brent for a clip. The steep fall has pushed oil to its lowest point since the financial crisis, and is threatening to break through a low for Nymex oil of $33.87 and $36.20 for Brent, both set in December 2008.
The U.S. Energy Information Energy reported Wednesday that domestic oil inventories rose by 4.8 million barrels last week, adding to the oil glut and taking the market by surprise as analysts had been expecting a decrease. Oil inventories usually decline this time of year as refineries ramp up their processing rate to produce heating oil. However, at the moment there is no need for them to do so because of mild weather. Data provider Genscape Inc. said that stockpiles at Cushing, Okla., the delivery point for the benchmark U.S. futures contract, rose by nearly 1.4 million barrels in the week, mounting evidence the global glut of crude isn’t easing.
Saudi Arabia reported that Russia’s Energy Minister said Russia was not considering any coordination with OPEC in order to support prices because OPEC has lost its power to regulate the market. Saudi Arabia has said numerous times that the only way they would change their market share strategy would be if non-OPEC countries would participate with OPEC to cut production especially Russia. Yet again Russia is clear in their non-participating answer. Unless there is a sudden change in the Saudi thinking OPEC will continue to run wide open with each member country running their producing operations any way they want.
Although bearish news has mostly weighed on the market this week, the decision by U.S. congressional leaders to repeal the 40-year old ban on crude exports caused some WTI short-sellers to cover positions. The oil-export measure is at the center of a deal congressional leaders announced early Wednesday on spending and tax legislation, however the House and Senate must still pass it and President Barack Obama must sign it into law. The deal is likely to lead to new pipeline connections to ship oil from North Dakota to the East and West coasts. The removal of the crude oil export restrictions should mean an end to the seasonal blow-outs in the WTI-Brent spread that were so painful for US producers over the last few years and should keep that spread narrow for the foreseeable future.
The same bearish factors pulled down natural gas, but it is the weather that has taken center stage on the short this fall and winter. A historically strong El Nino weather phenomenon has sharply limited demand for the heating fuel this year just as rampant production had pushed stockpiles to an all-time high. Forecasts have predicted temperatures hitting 70 degrees Fahrenheit in New York on Christmas Eve, a crippling blow to a market reliant on winter heating to drive demand.
Natural gas prices slid to a fresh 16-year low as traders increasingly fear warm weather and heavy stockpiles are leading to a glut that will last deep into next year. Heating demand has been limited, but with production still going strong stockpiles last week fell by only a third of their average drop for the week according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration.
The fall was far less than traders and analysts expected, just 34 billion cubic feet compared with expectations for 41 bcf. Stockpiles ended last week 16% above levels from a year ago and 9.1% above the five-year average for the same week, EIA data shows. Early indicators are that the next draw from stockpiles could be even smaller, possibly just 10% of what it usually is, as the gas industry could double its storage surplus over the winter compared with a year ago, ending March with about 2.3 trillion cubic feet of gas in storage.
Prices whipsawed after the EIA report, and then fell decisively in the afternoon, extending gas’s losing streak to seven sessions, the longest since December 2012. Prices for the front-month of January had the lowest settlement since March 23, 1999, and it is the lowest inflation-adjusted settlement in the history of NYMEX trading, when gas started trading on the exchange in 1990.
Only the crystal ball knows what 2016 has in store, but at this point it is not looking like there will be “V” shaped recovery in the energy sector anytime soon. With that have a Merry Christmas, and Happy New Year, and good luck and good trading in 2016!