A Sour Outlook for Q4: Crude Supply Cuts and Refinery Challenges
The Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) and its allies are tightening the crude oil supply. This follows OPEC’s 2022 strategy and will likely continue through the fourth quarter of 2023. The US sectors most heavily affected are farmers, construction companies, and transportation businesses.
The benchmark Brent crude price surpassed $90 a barrel for the first time in September while 1.3 million of estimated barrels have been cut daily. Crude prices are at a 10-month high and the heavy refined fuels that ships, planes, and trucks rely upon have skyrocketed in price. Diesel is up 41% while jet fuel registered a 24% increase (year over year). The latter has been rising steadily since May and Spirit Airlines, American Airlines, and Delta Air Lines all suffered a slide in their respective stock prices. The US Global Jets exchange-traded fund also declined 19% over the last three months.
OPEC crude oil production is at its lowest since August 2021. Global economic contraction had led to slumping oil prices prompting OPEC’s (and its allies) response as one of aggressive supply restraint. On the other end, output increases by Venezuela and Iran have been notable. Iranian production reached a nearly 6-year high at 2.76 million barrels per day and Venezuela hit a 5-year peak at 810,000 barrels per day. Relaxed US sanctions post the Russian invasion of Ukraine were the likely catalyst behind the production uptick.
Apart from supply, the world’s capacity to make diesel is also driving prices northward. Refineries are the engine and the Middle East and Africa have experienced delayed refinery startups while European refiners are struggling to make enough trucking fuel. One sector that is thriving is US refiners. Phillips 66, Marathon Petroleum, and Valero Energy are trading at near-record highs. Healthy refining environments are in excellent condition based on tight supply and ever-increasing demand.
At a macro level rising energy prices pose serious risks for consumer inflation. Everything from meal deliveries to everyday goods and services is affected. Contracting inventories will likely maintain crude oil prices elevated until 2024 and the surplus that was enjoyed in the first quarter of 2023 is expected to reverse.