Fuel prices are falling steeply this morning as the market digests two weeks of EIA data, which delayed its reporting due to technical issues. Adding to market volatility, OPEC+ agreed to continue with their plan and raise production in August. The OPEC+ deal runs through the end of September, after which countries will technically be free to produce as much as they’d like. Of course, it’s unclear whether countries will be able to keep up with the August production hike, let alone further increases once the deal expires. Getting back to the EIA data, the recent report reveals important changes related to two stats: fuel demand and fuel inventories.
First, fuel demand is down – and this time COVID isn’t to blame. After years of weakened fuel demand due to COVID shutdowns, the market had expected heavy demand this year. Earlier this year, demand seemed to be on-par with the pre-COVID average, but the past few weeks have shown a marked decline. Gasoline demand is down 13% compared to the pre-COVID average. Diesel demand has also been weak, down half a million barrels per day from Q1 2022 levels. With no major surges in COVID lockdowns, reduced demand seems to be stemming from higher fuel costs and inflation – perhaps a leading indicator of an economic downturn.
Second, inventories are (finally) improving. Diesel has been a big concern for the market, since Europe relies heavily on diesel fuel for both consumer and industrial demand and can no longer purchase Russian oil. In the US, diesel inventories remain sharply below the pre-COVID range, but they have climbed 8 million barrels higher since bottoming out in May. Markets are responding favorably to rising gasoline and diesel inventories.