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Brace for Covert Conflict

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In the past two trading days, Brent Crude prices have fluctuated between highs of USD 92.2 per barrel and lows of USD 88.7 per barrel. Despite escalation tensions in the Middle East, oil prices have remained relatively stable over the past 24 hours. The recent barrage of rockets and drones in the region hasn’t significantly affected market sentiment regarding potential disruptions to oil supply. The key concern now is how Israel will respond: will it choose a strong retaliation to assert deterrence, risking wider regional instability, or will it revert to targeted strikes on Iran’s proxies in Lebanon, Syria, Yemen, and Iraq? While it’s too early to predict, one thing is clear: brace for increased volatility, uncertainty, and speculation.

Ole R. Hvalbye, Analyst Commodities, SEB
Ole R. Hvalbye, Analyst Commodities, SEB

Amidst these developments, the market continues to focus on current fundamentals rather than unfolding geopolitical risks. Despite Iran’s recent attack on Israel, oil prices have slid, reflecting a sideways or slightly bearish sentiment. This morning, oil prices stand at USD 90 per barrel, down 2.5% from Friday’s highs.

The attack

Iran’s launch of over 300 rockets and drones toward Israel marks the first direct assault from Iranian territory since 1991. However, the attack, announced well in advance, resulted in minimal damage as Israeli and allied forces intercepted nearly all projectiles. Hence, the damage inflicted was limited. The incident has prompted US President Joe Biden to urge Israel to exercise restraint, as part of broader efforts to de-escalate tensions in the Middle East.

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Israel’s response remains uncertain as its war cabinet deliberates on potential courses of action. While the necessity of a response is acknowledged, the timing and magnitude remain undecided.

The attack was allegedly in retaliation for an Israeli airstrike on Iran’s consulate in Damascus, resulting in significant casualties, including a senior leader in the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps’ elite Quds Force. It’s notable that this marks the first direct targeting of Israel from Iranian territory, setting the stage for heightened tensions between the two nations.

Despite the scale of the attack, the vast majority of Iranian projectiles were intercepted before reaching Israeli territory. However, a small number did land, causing minor damage to a military base in the southern region.

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President Biden swiftly condemned Iran’s actions and pledged to coordinate a diplomatic response with leaders from the G7 nations. The US military’s rapid repositioning of assets in the region underscores the seriousness of the situation.

Iran’s willingness to escalate tensions further depends on Israel’s response, as indicated by General Mohammad Bagheri, chief of staff of the Iranian armed forces. Meanwhile, speculation about a retaliatory attack from Israel persists.

Looking ahead, key questions remain unanswered. Will Iran launch additional attacks? How will Israel respond, and what implications will it have for the region? Moreover, how will Iran’s allies react to the escalating tensions?

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Given the potential for a full-scale war between Iran and Israel, concerns about its impact on global energy markets are growing. Both the United States and China have strong incentives to reduce tensions in the region, given the destabilizing effects of a regional conflict.

Our view in conclusion

The recent escalation between Iran and Israel underscores the delicate balance of power in the volatile Middle East. With tensions reaching unprecedented levels and the specter of further escalation looming, the potential for a full-blown conflict cannot be understated. The ramifications of such a scenario would be far-reaching and could have significant implications for regional stability and global security.

Turning to the oil market, there has been much speculation about the possibility of a full-scale blockade of the Strait of Hormuz in the event of further escalation. However, at present, such a scenario remains highly speculative. Nonetheless, it is crucial to note that Iran’s oil production and exports remain at risk even without further escalation. Currently producing close to 3.2 million barrels per day, Iran has significantly increased its production from mid-2020 levels of 1.9 million barrels per day.

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In response to the recent attack, Israel may exert pressure on its ally, the US, to impose stricter sanctions on Iran. The enforcement of such sanctions, particularly on Iranian oil exports, could result in a loss of anywhere between 0.5 million to 1 million barrels per day of oil supply. This would likely keep the oil market in deficit for the remainder of the year, contradicting the Biden administration’s wish to maintain oil and gasoline prices at sustainable levels ahead of the election. While other OPEC nations have spare capacity, utilizing it would tighten the global oil market even further. Saudi Arabia and the UAE, for example, could collectively produce an additional almost 3 million barrels of oil per day if necessary.

Furthermore, both Iran and the US have expressed a desire to prevent further escalation. However, much depends on Israel’s response to the recent barrage of rockets. While Israel has historically refrained from responding violently to attacks (1991), the situation remains fluid. If Israel chooses not to respond forcefully, the US may be compelled to promise stronger enforcement of sanctions on Iranian oil exports. Consequently, Iranian oil exports are at risk, regardless of whether a wider confrontation ensues in the Middle East.

Analyzing the potential impact, approximately 2.2 million barrels per day of net Iranian crude and condensate exports could be at risk, factoring in Iranian domestic demand and condensate production. The effectiveness of US sanctions enforcement, however, remains uncertain, especially considering China’s stance on Iranian oil imports.

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Despite these uncertainties, the market outlook remains cautiously optimistic for now, with Brent Crude expected to hover around the USD 90 per barrel mark in the near term. Navigating through geopolitical tensions and fundamental factors, the oil market continues to adapt to evolving conflicts in the Middle East and beyond.

Analys

German solar power prices are collapsing as market hits solar saturation

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German solar power producers got a price haircut of 87% over the past 10 days. German solar power producers have over the past 10 days received a volume weighted power price of only EUR 9.1/MWh. The average power price during non-solar-power-hours was in comparison EUR 70.6/MWh. Solar power producers thus got an 87% cut in the power price they get when they produce vs. the power price during non-solar-power-hours. This is what happens to power prices when the volume of unregulated power becomes equally big or bigger than demand: Prices collapse when unregulated power produces the most.

Bjarne Schieldrop, Chief analyst commodities, SEB
Bjarne Schieldrop, Chief analyst commodities, SEB

Massive growth in solar power installations in Germany in 2023 is leading to destruction of solar hour prices and solar profitability. Germany installed a record 14,280 MW of solar power capacity According to ’PV Magazine International’. That is close to twice as much as in 2022. Total installed solar capacity reached 81.7 GW at the end of 2023 according to ’Renewables Now’. Average German demand load was in comparison 52.2 GW. So total solar capacity reached almost 30 GW above average demand. Solar power produces the most during summer when demand is lower. The overshoot is thus much larger than the 30 GW mentioned when it matters.

The collapse in solar-hour-power-prices implies a collapse in solar power producer earnings unless the earnings of the installations are secured with subsidies or by PPAs. It also means that there is a sharp reduction in the earnings potential for new solar power projects. The exponential growth in new installations of solar capacity we have seen to date is likely to come to an abrupt halt. There is however most likely still a large range of solar power projects under construction in Germany which will be finalized before growth in new capacity comes to a halt. The problem of solar power production curbs (you are not allowed to produce at all) and solar power price destruction is likely to escalate yet higher before new growth in supply comes to a halt. 

Focus will now shift from solar production capacity growth to grid improvements, batteries and adaptive demand. All consumers are of course happy for cheap power as long as they are able to consume it when it is cheap. At the moment they can’t. But the incentive to be inventive is now super high. The focus will now likely shift from solar power production growth to grids, batteries, adaptive demand and all possible ways to utilize ”free power”. This will over time exhaust the availability of ”free power” and drive solar-hour-power-prices back up. This again will then eventually open for renewed growth in solar power capacity growth.

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It is probably much worse down in the grid. What is worth noting is that these numbers are for all of Germany average. Solar power congestion is much worse in the local grids all around Germany along with local grid capacity constraints ect.

The problem of solar power is high concentration of production: 80% of German solar production was produced during 22.3% of the hours in the year in 2023. What is also worth mentioning is that solar power production is extremely concentrated in relatively few hours per year. It produces in the middle of the day and during summer. In 2023 German solar power produced 80% of its production in only 22.3% of the hours of the year. This basically implies that once solar power production reaches 22.3% of total power supply (without batteries), then solar-hour-power-prices will likely collapse. Solar power production reached 55 TWh in 2023. That’s a lot but it is still only 12% of total demand of 458 TWh in 2023. What it means is that the acute problem of solar-hour-power-price-destruction sets in much before the ”theoretical 22.3%” mentioned above.

On the 21 Feb 2024 we wrote the following note on this issue: ”The self-destructive force of unregulated solar power” where we highlighted these issues and warned that this will likely be a process of ”First gradually. Then suddenly”.

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German solar power capacity makes a big leap upwards in 2023 as the energy crisis hurt everybody. Demand went down. Now there is a large overcapacity in installed solar effect vs. demand load.

German solar power capacity makes a big leap upwards in 2023 as the energy crisis hurt everybody. Demand went down. Now there is a large overcapacity in installed solar effect vs. demand load.
Source: SEB calculations and graph, PV Magazine, Wikipedia, Blberg data on German power demand

German solar power producers got an 87% price haircut on average during last 10 days vs. those who produced during non-solar-power hours.

German solar power producers got an 87% price haircut on average during last 10 days vs. those who produced during non-solar-power hours.
Source: SEB calculations and graph, data by Blbrg

Volume weighted solar power prices vs. non-solar-hours. Bigger and bigger discount.

Volume weighted solar power prices vs. non-solar-hours. Bigger and bigger discount.
Source:  SEB calculations and graph, data by Blbrg

Volume weighted solar power prices vs. non-solar-hours. Bigger and bigger discount.

Volume weighted solar power prices vs. non-solar-hours. Bigger and bigger discount.
Source: SEB calculations and graph, data by Blbrg

Solar power production and German power prices over the past 10 days.

Solar power production and German power prices over the past 10 days.
Source: SEB calculations and graph, data by Blbrg

Solar power production and German power prices on 27 April 2024.

Solar power production and German power prices on 27 April 2024.
Source:  SEB calculations and graph, data by Blbrg
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Analys

Firm at $85

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This week, Brent Crude prices have strengthened by USD 1.2 per barrel since Monday’s opening. While macroeconomic concerns persist, market reactions have been subdued, with price fluctuations primarily driven by fundamental factors. Currently, the oil price stands at its weekly high of USD 84.4 per barrel, with Wednesday’s low recorded at USD 81.7 per barrel, indicating relatively normal price movements throughout the week.

Ole R. Hvalbye, Analyst Commodities, SEB
Ole R. Hvalbye, Analyst Commodities, SEB

The upward trajectory since Wednesday afternoon can be attributed to two main factors:

Firstly, Wednesday’s US inventory report, though mixed, conveyed a bullish sentiment to the market due to an overall decline in commercial inventories. The report from the US Department of Energy (DOE) revealed a draw in US crude inventories of 1.4 million barrels last week, surpassing consensus estimates of a 2.0-million-barrel draw –  the American Petroleum Institute’s (API) forecast of a 0.5-million-barrel build on Tuesday.

Additionally, a marginal improvement in refinery margins hints at healthier demand prospects leading up to the driving season. While commercial crude oil inventories (excluding Strategic Petroleum Reserve) decreased, standing approximately 3% below the five-year average for this period, total gasoline inventories saw a notable increase of 0.9 million barrels compared to the consensus forecast of a decrease of 1.1 million barrels. Distillate fuel inventories experienced a more moderate increase in line with expectations, rising by 0.6 million barrels but remaining approximately 7% below the five-year average. Overall, total inventories (crude + gasoline + distillate) showed a marginal increase of 0.1 million barrels, coupled with a 1% improvement in refinery utilization to 88.5% last week (see pages 11 and 18 attached).

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The substantial draw in commercial crude inventories, particularly compared to the typical seasonal build, has emerged as a key price driver (see page 12 attached).

Secondly, the third consecutive day of oil price gains can be attributed to renewed optimism regarding US rate cuts, supported by positive US jobs data suggesting potential Federal Reserve rate cuts this year. This optimism has boosted risk assets and weakened the dollar, rendering commodities more appealing to buyers.

In a broader context, crude oil prices have been moderating since early last month amidst easing tensions in the Middle East. Attention is also focused on OPEC+, with Russia, a key member, exceeding production targets ahead of the cartel’s upcoming meeting. Expectations are widespread for an extension of output cuts during the next meeting.

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Conversely, providing support to global crude prices is the Biden administration’s intention to increase the price ceiling for refilling US strategic petroleum reserves to as much as USD 79.99 per barrel.

With geopolitical tensions relatively subdued, but lingering, the market remains vigilant in analyzing data and fundamentals. Our outlook for oil prices at USD 85 per barrel for 2024 remains firm and attainable for the foreseeable future.

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Analys

Diesel concerns drags Brent lower but OPEC+ will still get the price it wants in Q3

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Brent rallied 2.5% last week on bullish inventories and bullish backdrop. Brent crude gained 2.5% last week with a close of the week of USD 89.5/b which also was the highest close of the week. The bullish drivers were: 1) Commercial crude and product stocks declined 3.8 m b versus a normal seasonal rise of 4.4 m b, 2) Solid gains in front-end Brent crude time-spreads indicating a tight crude market, and 3) A positive backdrop of a 2.7% gain in US S&P 500 index.

Bjarne Schieldrop, Chief analyst commodities, SEB
Bjarne Schieldrop, Chief analyst commodities, SEB

Brent falling back 1% on diesel concerns this morning. But positive backdrop may counter it later. This morning Brent crude is pulling back 0.9% to USD 88.7/b counter to the fact that the general backdrop is positive with a weaker USD, equity gains both in Asia and in European and US futures and not the least also positive gains in industrial metals with copper trading up 0.4% at USD 10 009/ton. This overall positive market backdrop clearly has the potential to reverse the initial bearish start of the week as we get a little further into the Monday trading session.

Diesel concerns at center stage. The bearish angle on oil this morning is weak diesel demand with diesel forward curves in front-end contango and predictions for lower refinery runs in response this down the road. I.e. that the current front-end strength in crude curves (elevated backwardation) reflecting a current tight crude market will dissipate in not too long due to likely lower refinery runs. 

But gasoline cracks have rallied. Diesel weakness is normal this time of year. Overall refining margin still strong. Lots of focus on weakness in diesel demand and cracks. But we need to remember that we saw the same weakness last spring in April and May before the diesel cracks rallied into the rest of the year. Diesel cracks are also very seasonal with natural winter-strength and likewise natural summer weakness. What matters for refineries is of course the overall refining margin reflecting demand for all products. Gasoline cracks have rallied to close to USD 24/b in ARA for the front-month contract. If we compute a proxy ARA refining margin consisting of 40% diesel, 40% gasoline and 20% bunkeroil we get a refining margin of USD 14/b which is way above the 2015-19 average of only USD 6.5/b. This does not take into account the now much higher costs to EU refineries of carbon prices and nat gas prices. So the picture is a little less rosy than what the USD 14/b may look like.

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The Russia/Ukraine oil product shock has not yet fully dissipated. What stands out though is that the oil product shock from the Russian war on Ukraine has dissipated significantly, but it is still clearly there. Looking at below graphs on oil product cracks the Russian attack on Ukraine stands out like day and night in February 2022 and oil product markets have still not fully normalized.

Oil market gazing towards OPEC+ meeting in June. OPEC+ will adjust to get the price they want. Oil markets are increasingly gazing towards the OPEC+ meeting in June when the group will decide what to do with production in Q3-24. Our view is that the group will adjust production as needed to gain the oil price it wants which typically is USD 85/b or higher. This is probably also the general view in the market.

Change in US oil inventories was a bullish driver last week.

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Change in US oil inventories was a bullish driver last week.
Source: SEB calculations and graph, Blbrg data, US EIA

Crude oil time-spreads strengthened last week

Crude oil time-spreads strengthened last week
Source:  SEB calculations and graph, Blbrg data

ICE gasoil forward curve has shifted from solid backwardation to front-end contango signaling diesel demand weakness. Leading to concerns for lower refinery runs and softer crude oil demand by refineries down the road.

ICE gasoil forward curve
Source: Blbrg

ARA gasoline crack has rallied towards while Gasoil crack has fallen back. Not a totally unusual pattern.

ARA gasoline crack has rallied towards while Gasoil crack has fallen back. Not a totally unusual pattern.
Source:  SEB calculations and graph, Blbrg data

Proxy ARA refining margin with 40% gasoil crack, 40% gasoline crack and 20% bunker oil crack.

Proxy ARA refining margin with 40% gasoil crack, 40% gasoline crack and 20% bunker oil crack.
Source:  SEB calculations and graph, Blbrg data

ARA diesel cracks saw the exact same pattern last year. Dipping low in April and May before rallying into the second half of the year. Diesel cracks have fallen back but are still clearly above normal levels both in spot and on the forward curve. I.e. the ”Russian diesel stress” hasn’t fully dissipated quite yet.

ARA diesel cracks
Source:  SEB calculations and graph, Blbrg data

Net long specs fell back a little last week.

Net long specs fell back a little last week.
Source:  SEB calculations and graph, Blbrg data

52-week ranking of net long speculative positions in Brent and WTI as well as 52-week ranking of the strength of the Brent 1-7 mth backwardation

52-week ranking of net long speculative positions in Brent and WTI as well as 52-week ranking of the strength of the Brent 1-7 mth backwardation
Source:  SEB calculations and graph, Blbrg data
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