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Oil prices have moved into 'super contango'

It looks to be a volatile final few weeks for crude oil prices. So far, the low for WTI oil prices in 2015 of $37.75 a barrel set in August stands as the low price point -- but not for long.

There is a global supply glut, not just of crude oil, but, increasingly, refined products that will likely break the back of price support in the market, sending oil prices into a holiday plunge. So much so, land based storage tanks are filling up and increasing numbers of volumes are being stored on tankers.


A pump jack operates at a well site leased by Devon Energy Production Co. near Guthrie, Oklahoma.
Nick Oxford | Reuters
A pump jack operates at a well site leased by Devon Energy Production Co. near Guthrie, Oklahoma.

In a recent report, the International Energy Agency highlighted the fact that global inventories of all petroleum products were at 3 billion barrels, which was a record. And just over 2 billion of those barrels are resident here in the U.S.

Read MoreContango explained

Each week, in the summary page of its petroleum-status report, the U.S. Energy Information Administration references the fact that U.S. crude-oil inventories are at levels not seen in over 80 years. Inventories of gasoline are well-above their average and diesel fuels are also well-supplied.

The vast crude oil glut or mega-glut is manifest in the West Texas Intermediate and Brent crude oil price curves, which have moved into a "super-contango." (Yup, there are lots of superlatives needed to describe the current state of the market.)

Contango refers to when the front-month or near-term futures contract are trading less than or at a discount to longer-dated futures contracts.

The difference between Brent crude-oil contracts, one year apart, recently hit a record $8 a barrel. The January 2016 WTI futures contract is trading at a hefty discount of $1.50 per barrel to the February contract. In tightly-supplied markets, when crude oil prices are strong, that spread value is the complete opposite.

Oil prices have gotten some support this week from the heightened military action and worry over the situation in Syria and Northern Iraq, especially with the downing of the Russian fighter jet by Turkey. How Russia responds could plunge the region into deeper turmoil, putting a great deal of oil infrastructure and supply in the cross hairs. But these fears simply do not haunt the market for very long last these days.


The market also got a taste of Saudi Arabia's power this week, when a flip comment by the Saudi oil minister at a cabinet meeting was taken to signal a change in production policy by the Kingdom, as a way of "cooperating" with the other OPEC and non-OPEC producers. With the OPEC meeting looming next week, the comments were seized upon.

The reality is that nothing will come of the OPEC meeting. The Saudis are set to hold their ground. They see little to gain in assisting their oil market and regional rivals, Russia and Iran, by helping to "stabilize" the oil markets. In fact, the Saudis don't see a market that needs stabilizing.


The lone bright spot for the oil market has been the strong demand for gasoline. The demand in October in the U.S. was the highest in eight years. But, once the holidays pass, that demand will drop off, too.

The downward pressure remains intense on the petroleum complex from the mega-glut and the hit to demand from the economic softness in China and Europe. The strengthening dollar is also a negative for prices.

U.S. motorists will be filled with glee this holiday season, as they buy sub-$2.00 per gallon gasoline, courtesy of $30 crude oil.

Commentary by John Kilduff, a partner at Again Capital, an investment-management firm that specializes in commodities. Follow him on Twitter @KilduffReport.