New York — US refining margins ticked higher last week despite anemic demand by Thanksgiving drivers who chose to forego the traditional road trip, putting a crimp in gasoline demand that has been rising as coronavirus lockdowns ease, an analysis from S&P Global Platts showed Nov. 30.
Receive daily email alerts, subscriber notes & personalize your experience.Register Now
"Travel by private car—generally regarded as one of the safest and most available means of leisure travel during the pandemic—had begun establishing itself as a leading indicator of travel's rebound," said Cree Lawson, CEO of travel data company Arrivalist, in a statement. "That appears to have taken a back seat to people's desire to protect themselves and each other from a surge of COVID-19 cases."
While overall US road travel for the Thanksgiving holiday was down 35% from last year, over the last 30 days road travel is down only 20.8% compared with last year, according to Arrivalist's Daily Travel Index.
Regional differences drive margins
Arrivalist said road trip activity varied greatly by state over the holiday, noting virtually all of the Northeastern states saw less than half of the road activity of the prior year, while states in the western half of the country saw smaller drops travel, with Utah travel down the least at 13%.
US Atlantic Coast cracking margins for Bonny Light rose 51 cents/b to average $3.48/b for the week ended Nov. 27, according to S&P Global Platts Analytics margin data. In New Jersey, Arrivalist data shows Thanksgiving holiday driving down 39% from last year, but over the past 30 days driving is down only 20.8%.
In the US Midwest, margins also gained despite lower Thanksgiving road travel, with Bakken cracking margins averaging $5.58/b for the week ended Nov. 27, up from the week earlier's $5.40/b.
Illinois saw a 46.2% decline in road travel over the past seven days, compared with the 29.2% year-over-year drop off.
In California, Thanksgiving travel fell off by 26.2% from last year, while over the last 30 days road travel is down only 14.2% from last year. Cracking margins for regional benchmark Alaska North Slope averaged $11.63/b for the week ended Nov. 27, compared with the $9.20/b the week earlier.
USGC benefits from higher holiday jet demand
While road travel numbers remained desultory, pent-up demand for air travel, cheap tickets and airline precautions to prevent the spread of the coronavirus helped increase the number of people flying over the holiday.
More air travel helped increase jet fuel demand. According to Transportation Security Administration checkpoint data, the number of people flying for the holiday weekend reached levels not seen since early March, averaging over 1 million per day starting Nov. 20, the day before the Thanksgiving holiday, and again on Sunday, Nov. 29.
On the US Gulf Coast, RIN-adjusted jet prices, which in October and early November held a premium to ULSD as airlines purchased fuel for holiday travelers, flipped back to a discount. For the week ended Nov. 27, RIN-adjusted jet prices were trading at 1.08 cent/gal discount to ULSD compared with the 46-point premium seen for the week ended Nov. 13.
Stronger jet demand and colder weather pushed coking margins higher. USGC coking margins for Mars averaged $4.65/b for the week ended Nov. 27, up from the $3.79/b the week earlier.
Cracking margins also showed a stronger trend on the back of rising gasoline demand nationwide. WTI MEH cracking margins averaged $6.36/b for the week ended Nov. 27 compared with $5.52/b the week earlier.