When the obvious is scary

February 28, 2018 09:15 AM

Fed Chair Jerome Powell shook the markets by stating the obvious. Powel said that ”every participant in the FOMC submits a projection of what they feel is going to happen to the economy and also their projection for appropriate monetary policy. And at the December meeting, the median participant called for three rate increases in 2018. Now since then -- we will submit another projection, all of us, in three weeks -- but since then, what we’ve seen is incoming data that suggests that strengthening in the economy.

We’ve seen continuing strength in the labor market. We’ve seen some data that will, in my case, add some confidence to my view that inflation is moving up to target. We’ve also seen continued strength around the globe, and we’ve seen fiscal policy become more stimulative. So, I think each of us is going to be taking the developments, since the December meeting, into account and writing down our new rate paths as we go into the March meeting, and I wouldn’t want to prejudge that.” So what he is saying is that while three rate hikes are now priced in the Fed is data dependent! Who knew!

Of course, anyone that is looking at the economic data here and around the globe should know that 4 rate hikes would be on the table. I predicted that on the Fox Business Network with Liz Claman months ago. We also, of course, predicted on Fox Business Network that crude would hit $60 per barrel last year, which it did, and that oil would rally on strong demand and that is exactly what has happened. Yet, Powell’s comments and some goofy projections by the International Energy Agency (IEA) and a story that, oh my gosh, OPEC was going to have lunch with some shale producer shook out some longs. Yet after accessing the American Petroleum Institute (API) supply and demand report they may want to get back in.

Who said that petroleum demand would be lackluster? Oh yeah, that was the IEA. Well, demand is anything but lackluster. Not only did we see consumer confidence surge to the highest level since the year 2000 coming in at an astounding 130.8 reading. We know that there is a very strong correlation between consumer confidence and gasoline demand. That means that we will see record demand for gasoline this summer’s driving season and should help support the entire complex,

The API also reported what could be called a shocking 1.277-million-barrel draw in supply from the NYMEX delivery point in Cushing Oklahoma. That was much higher than anticipated as many analysts were expecting supply to rise at that point. Yet, the price market set up and rip-roaring demand means that even as refiner’s slowdown, supply is still being burned. That also means that when refiners start to come out of maintenance they will have to start paying up for crude.

The API also reported only a 933,000 increase in overall crude supply. That increase is much smaller than the seasonal norm and is another sign that oil demand is exceeding production and the market can handle the record production by U.S. shale oil producers. It also calls into question whether or not they are actually producing what the Energy Information Agency (EIA)  and the IEA says they are.

The IEA was gushing that the U.S. would overtake Russia as the world's largest oil producer and the ‘colossal’ rise in U.S. oil production stops OPEC’s efforts to rebalance the oil market. Of course, remember the IEA is always talking their book. The Agency that has underestimated demand for years is now overestimating production. While their data on shale as well as the EIA suggests big gains, data from the Texas Railroad Commission, where they count barrels, is telling a much different production story but let’s give them the benefit of the doubt and say they are right about the numbers, then we are in big trouble. Because if we are producing that much oil and we can’t build inventory during shoulder season then watch out this spring.

The API also reported that gasoline Inventories were up 1.914 million barrels. Refiners still must draw down winter blends and build summer blend. They have some work ahead of them as demand for gas is rocking.

Distillate dropped by 1.437 million barrels as demand for U.S. exports more than likely picked up. European refiners must meet demand from the late cold blast.

So, three hikes or four, for oil demand it may not matter. It does not natter that OPEC is breaking bread with shale producers that some speculate that OPEC will threaten shale procures with another production war. That is not going to happen. What the market in oil should be focused on is the impact of stonier global growth and what may be the strongest demand growth for oil this year that we have seen in decade.

We warned anybody that would listen last year to not focus just on supply but on demand. Demand that was being fed by low oil prices and the more business friendly policies by the Trump administration. We said get hedged and I hope you did, if you are not hedged for this upcoming season use this break in price to do it. Barring any black swan events, you are looking at prices that are going to be very close to the lows for this year.

It feels like spring in Chicago today, but can it last? Probably not, and for natural gas bulls they hope we get more winter. They need a polar event, or they will see a market collapse. Yet, where there is cold there is hope. Andrew Weissman from EBW Analytics Group writes that  while the March natural gas contract lost more than 50¢ during its run as the front-month contract, the near-term outlook for the April contract is considerably brighter. Potential for very weak EIA-reported natural gas withdrawals and a moderating March weather forecast suggest that resistance is likely to hold, but the upside risks of technical traders initiating a bullish rally should not be dismissed.

Near-term gas supply/demand fundamentals may also offer limited further support, with rising weather-driven demand, a recovery from freeze-offs limiting production, and an early March online date for Cove Point LNG. Although fundamentals suggest the March weather-normalized supply/demand balance may be 3.0 Bcf/d looser year-over-year, colder weather may help obscure these trends for several weeks and allow NYMEX natural gas to trade higher. FERC’s Order 841 is likely to substantially increase energy storage participation in wholesale markets—but cost-related challenges remain.  

About the Author

Phil Flynn is a senior energy analyst at The PRICE Futures Group and a Fox Business Network contributor. Phil is one of the world's leading market analysts, providing individual investors, professional traders, and institutions with up-to-the-minute investment and risk management insight into global petroleum, gasoline, and energy markets.