Time Bomb In Oil Markets: Goldman Sachs Issues Warning

While energy traders remain focused on weekly changes in crude supply and demand, manifesting in shifts in inventory of which yesterday’s API data and today’s EIA data was a breathtaking example, a much more troubling data point was revealed by the Energy Information Administration last week when it reported implied gasoline demand.

 

To be sure, surging gasoline supply and inventories are hardly surprising or new: they remain a byproduct of the unprecedented global crude inventories leftover from two years of failed OPEC policy which resulted in a historic glut. Last January, overall crude runs were up 500,000 bpd as refiners shifted away from diesel and other products to gasoline to chase more attractive margins amid a mild winter and sluggish diesel demand. The move led to an overbuild of gasoline stocks that lingered into the summer, punishing margins when they should have been at their strongest. This January, crude runs are at historic levels, up by roughly 300,000 bpd over last year.

 

So yes, both gasoline stocks and supply remain at extremely high levels, but what set off alarm bells is not supply, but demand: the EIA last week reported that the 4-week average of gasoline supplied – or implied gasoline demand – in the United States was 8.2 million barrels per day, the lowest since February 2012. And, as Reuters adds, U.S. refiners are now facing the prospects of weakening gasoline demand for the first time in five years.

 

Unlike excess supply, which may have numerous factors, when it comes to a plunge in end product demand there can only be one implication: the U.S. consumer is very ill, especially when considering that gasoline use has grown every year since 2012, despite fears that demand has topped out amid the growth of fuel efficient cars, urbanization and a graying population.

 

Upon learning the data, the industry’s immediate concern was about refiners and what it means for already sagging margins: U.S. gasoline demand is closely watched by traders as it accounts for roughly 10 percent of global consumption. U.S. refiners amassed large inventories that punished margins last year, but record gasoline demand and robust exports helped provided a firewall against further slippage. Now the industry faces the prospects of higher crude prices following global production cuts and fresh federal data that suggests their gasoline demand safety net may be eroding.

 

While energy traders remain focused on weekly changes in crude supply and demand, manifesting in shifts in inventory of which yesterday’s API data and today’s EIA data was a breathtaking example, a much more troubling data point was revealed by the Energy Information Administration last week when it reported implied gasoline demand.

 

 

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