In this week's Market Movers Europe with Nick Coleman: Demand weakness continues to stalk many markets, from oil to petrochemicals. European gas storage facilities are brimming, due partly to uncertainty over Russian supplies through Ukraine. And the future of two European steelmakers hangs in the balance.
In this week's highlights: Weak demand continues to stalk many markets, from oil to petrochemicals. European gas storage facilities are brimming, due partly to uncertainty over Russian supplies through Ukraine. And the future of two European steelmakers hangs in the balance.
The overall theme is the faltering outlook for a range of commodities.
Brent front-month crude oil prices continue to dip below the $60 mark, prompting renewed pressure on OPEC and its partners to take tougher action to rein in production. We should get some early indications on the latest Saudi crude exports in a statistical release today from the Joint Organisations Data Initiative.
There is also the geopolitical backdrop to keep in mind, including whether tensions surrounding shipping in the Persian Gulf will now ease following Gibraltar's release of an Iranian tanker; Tehran continues to hold the UK tanker Stena Impero and its crew.
And US crude inventories are under scrutiny, with the next data due Wednesday after two successive weeks of increase, which contradicts the normal seasonal trend.
These global trends are reflected in steep backwardation in Europe's gasoline market, with scant gasoline moving out of Europe to the US. Asia is also not pulling gasoline cargoes from Northwest Europe, while deliveries are expected to arrive from the US Gulf Coast at the end of August. The result is greater-than-normal backwardation in the gasoline price curve, which you can see in this chart:
For European refiners, one consolation is plentiful supplies of cheap US crude arriving in the region, meaning lower feedstock prices. Valero's Pembroke refinery in Wales has become a regular buyer of this crude.
But in petrochemical markets, despite this cheap feedstock, demand still appears to be tepid, reflecting tough global competition, particularly from US petrochemical manufacturers. There are some pockets of tightness, particularly in Germany, due to planned and unplanned outages at steam cracker units.
High-sulphur fuel oil prices are also declining, after appearing remarkably robust in the face of the new curb on high-sulphur fuel oil as a bunker fuel, by the International Maritime Organisation, which comes into force in January.
Despite the looming date, supplies of high-sulphur fuel remain plentiful, and the front-month Rotterdam barge crack for FOB high sulphur fuel oil has dropped by more than $10/b since the end of July. We'll watch to see if that continues this week.
Gas markets are also showing weakness, reflecting ample LNG and efforts by European suppliers to build up stored volumes. Europe's TTF day-ahead price is barely above its 10-year low, seen in early July, of 9.30 euros per megawatt-hour. Building up gas stocks has been a particular priority for Hungary and its neighbours due to uncertainty about gas shipments through Ukraine once Gazprom finishes building its Nord Stream 2 pipeline under the Baltic, at the end of the year.
You can see how early the summer build-up of stocks has taken place in the chart here.
S&P Global Platts Analytics sees the near-term price risk as heavily weighted to the downside. But we also expect some impact from heavy maintenance in Norway, as both the Kollsnes processing plant and the giant Troll field are due to be out of action from August 24 into early September.
As a footnote, new EU rules come into force on Thursday limiting coal power plants' access to capacity payments by national governments -- all part of an EU drive to squeeze coal out of the system.
Underlying weaknesses in steel markets will also play out this week in the battles for survival of two European steel manufacturers, British Steel and Poland's Huta Czestochowa.
The British company appeared to win a reprieve last week when Turkish pension fund OYAK signed an exclusivity agreement aimed at a purchase.
Meanwhile the Polish steel plate producer halted operations in May and filed for bankruptcy, but there are reports of discussions – late in the day – with global company Liberty Steel that might just save the Polish company before a court rules on bankruptcy at the end of the month.
And so our Social Media Question this week is: What would it take to ensure a future for Europe's steel manufacturing industry? Tweet us your response with the hashtag #PlattsMM
That's it for now. Thanks for kicking off your Monday with us and have a great week ahead.