Slowing demand for fuel adds to fears of looming US recession


As progress slows within the US economic system, warning indicators within the vitality markets are including to investor fears {that a} recession is looming over the world’s largest fuel guzzler.

Demand for diesel, the lifeblood of the economic economic system, has fallen sharply in latest months as freight markets cool. And there are indications that petrol demand could also be starting to wane as motorists look to dial again spending.

Taken collectively, analysts mentioned, these recommend a deceleration on this planet’s main economic system might quickly give method to contraction.

“If you were looking at it in the closet, and not knowing what the wider economy was doing, you would say we’re seeing some sort of an industrial recession,” mentioned Tom Kloza, international head of vitality analysis on the Oil Price Information Service.

US financial progress slowed significantly within the first quarter of the 12 months, in accordance to official figures launched final week, including 1.1 per cent on an annualised foundation. That was down from 2.6 per cent within the final three months of 2022 and marked a higher drop-off than economists had anticipated.

While US shoppers proceed to spend regardless of the broader financial cooldown, there are indicators that they might be starting to tighten their belts.

Demand for distillates together with diesel, which is used to energy the vehicles and trains that transport items across the nation, was about 6 per cent decrease within the first quarter of 2023 in contrast with the identical interval final 12 months as a trade slowdown bites, in accordance to authorities knowledge crunched by S&P Global Commodity Insights.

“Simply stated, we’re in a freight recession,” mentioned Shelley Simpson, chief govt of trucking group JB Hunt on a latest earnings name. UPS boss Carol Tome prompt the pattern would proceed, pointing to a retail slowdown and saying she anticipated “volume to remain under pressure”.

Meanwhile, petrol demand, which is extra carefully linked to client journey, has held up to this point, with consumption within the first quarter off by 2 per cent versus final 12 months. But there are indications that it’s starting to slip.

“What we’re seeing is this ongoing narrative of persistently . . . resilient consumers, and this flagging industrial and business investment sector — which is where you see diesel demand falling off, you see gasoline demand remaining firm,” mentioned Rory Johnston, who runs Commodity Context, a market analysis service.

“[But] if the business sector continues to retrench, that will inevitably, eventually feed into the consumer side.”

Column chart of Barrels a day (million) showing Resilient petrol demand has so far offset some of the diesel weakness

Data on the pump suggests that could be starting to occur, as America’s motorists turn into extra aware of their spending.

According to Opis, which tracks exercise throughout 40,000 stations nationwide, petrol volumes bought within the week to April 22 had been down about 3 per cent versus the identical week final 12 months, 6 per cent versus the identical week two years in the past and 20 per cent versus the identical week in 2019, earlier than the pandemic hit.

That is regardless of a drop-off in costs, which sit at $3.62 a gallon on common, in accordance to automotive group the AAA, down from $4.16 a gallon a 12 months in the past, when the breakout of the warfare in Ukraine despatched them surging to file ranges of greater than $5 by the summer time.

“We’re just not seeing the consumer really driving,” mentioned Kloza. “I think the consumer isn’t necessarily motivated to drive more just because prices are cheaper than they were last year”.

The summer time driving season from May to August will push up demand, however there are indicators this 12 months’s uplift is likely to be softer than ordinary.

“It’s really noisy. I think investors are having a really difficult time handicapping what gasoline demand looks like and what travel season looks like,” mentioned Michael Tran, managing director, international vitality technique at RBC Capital Markets. “[But] leading indicators of future mobility are suggesting to us that travel is going to be softer than people think because consumers are pitching their wallet harder than people realise.”

RBC’s “Get Out and Travel” tracker means that measures of future journey — together with lodge bookings, automobile leases and practice transport — slipped into adverse territory in February and March, suggesting Americans are planning to curtail journey spending this summer time — and burn much less petrol.

Still, regardless of some of the indicators of a slowdown, refiners have remained upbeat. Valero, the world’s largest impartial refiner, dismissed issues about market weak spot throughout a latest earnings name.

And many analysts stay assured that motorists will proceed to guzzle sufficient petrol to offset diesel weak spot.

“There’s enough positive in the balance that it doesn’t create an overall problem,” mentioned Alan Struth, supervisor for macroeconomics and oil demand at S&P Global Commodity Insights. “There is nothing immediately clear to say we should be ratcheting back our outlook — or prepare for a recession. Of course, that could change.”

Still, additional upheaval within the banking sector could possibly be the catalyst that sparks a wider rout in vitality markets, analysts mentioned, driving a retrenchment in client spending. International crude costs final week worn out the good points seen since Opec shocked the market by asserting a provide reduce in early April as issues over the long run of California’s First Republic financial institution roiled markets.

“I think we’ve got at least a couple more months of this kind of industrial, investment weakness,” mentioned Commodity Context’s Johnston. “Unless we do get the consumer falling off, in which case, I think we spiral further downward — I think it’s the only thing really holding this together right now.”

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