22-10-2018

Winter oil market outlook

The oil market in the winter season is generally characterized by demand for diesel, particularly in the northern hemisphere, leaving product markets more vulnerable to developments related to the middle of the barrel. In 2017, refining margins weakened in winter and product markets were mainly sustained by firm gasoil demand.

Looking back, European diesel demand growth dropped last winter in 4Q17 from levels observed at the beginning of the year and deteriorated further in 2Q18. The trend in 3Q18 so far confirms market weakness. This general slowdown in the European gasoil market is largely a consequence of the 2015 diesel emissions controversy and higher global oil prices. Hence, in 2018 the European gasoil market has transitioned from the fastest-growing diesel market to the slowest among selected countries shown in Graph 1.

In the US, while heating oil has seen pressure due to substitution by natural gas, demand for middle distillates has nevertheless been strong on healthy economic activity, including manufacturing, construction and freight movement. In the winter of 2017, refinery runs in the US were at record highs due to Hurricane Harvey, though this is not expected to be repeated this winter. Following this year’s driving season, refining margins have begun to decline seasonally, in addition to being pressured by smaller crack spreads, which could lower refinery throughput further in the months to come.

In non-OECD countries, strong economic growth, particularly in India and China, has been supportive of industrial activities, such as heavy equipment operations for mining and farming and power generation, as well as passenger and commercial transportation. Diesel growth in India for 2018 continues to see strong momentum, as well as ongoing improvements in LPG requirements for residential use. In China, LPG and gasoline are the engines of demand growth, with seasonal agricultural activities providing further support for diesel demand in the coming months.

With regard to oil inventories, OECD stocks have witnessed a downward trend since the implementation of the Declaration of Cooperation, with an inventory draw in all product categories compared with a year earlier. As per the latest available data, OECD commercial product stocks stood at 41 mb below the seasonal average.

Looking ahead, based on current market developments, global product markets are projected to see some weakness, compared with the same quarter a year earlier. In Europe, gasoil cracks are expected to continue to come under pressure, as diesel-powered vehicles remain under scrutiny. At the same time, gasoline markets in the region are expected to show some counterseasonal gains, providing moderate support to otherwise softening European product markets.

In the US, the diesel market will be impacted by various factors such as weather conditions during 4Q18 and 1Q19 and the performance of the industrial and construction sectors. Meanwhile, product demand in non-OECD countries, mainly in China and India, is expected to be driven by positive GDP growth projections for those economies. In addition, limitations in refining capacity in Latin America and Africa, due to a lack of investment, will most likely continue to encourage product imports, providing additional support to global gasoline and middle distillate crack spreads. However, the current weakness in some emerging market currencies and subsidy reductions could negatively impact product demand in the emerging markets in the months to come.

Source: OPEC

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