The Bord Gáis Energy Index dropped 8% in May and is now 16% below the comparable period last year. Oil, the largest component of the Index, was the key driver of the fall dropping 11% in the month as escalating trade tensions heightened concerns on global growth and oil demand. Gas prices were down too, falling 12% as the UK system remains comfortably supplied. Coal prices dropped 3% on weak demand in Europe and Asia, and electricity prices fell 1%.
In May, the Bord Gáis Energy Index stood at 96 (-8%).
David Grainger, Energy Trader with Bord Gáis Energy, said, “The May figures from the Bord Gáis Energy Index show that wholesale energy prices were down across the board. Oil has had the biggest impact on the Energy Index falling 11% during the month and has now dropped below $65 a barrel, while gas continued its fall as a combination of mild weather, lower demand and strong stable supplies added to bearish momentum.”
Oil falls below $65 a barrel in May…
Oil prices traded 11% lower in May as the Brent crude benchmark broke through key support levels to fall below $65 a barrel. The benchmark Brent contract opened the month at $72 a barrel and closed the month at $64.49 a barrel, over 10% below April’s close and 13% below the comparable period last year.
The bearish tone was set early in the month as oil broke below the $70 a barrel mark on strong American and Russian oil output. Prices recovered during May to $72.62 a barrel as Saudi Arabia signalled it would back sustained output cuts, as they believe the market remains well supplied and inventory levels are building.
Prices began to slide below $70 a barrel towards the end of the month, as stockpiles of US crude unexpectedly rose to their highest level in nearly two years. Oil prices were also impacted by a breakdown in US-China trade discussions, along with increased trade tensions between the US and Mexico.
Gas prices continue to decline…
The day-ahead contract, the price for gas delivered tomorrow, averaged 32.24p/th in May, a drop of almost 12% in euro terms on the previous month.
Natural Gas prices dropped in May as high levels of LNG continued to arrive into the UK and Europe. LNG flows into the UK system climbed to 2.08bcm in May, over eight times the volume received in the same period last year and storage levels in Europe are now at 62%, over double last year’s levels.
LNG flows into Europe are increasing because of lower Asian LNG demand due to mild weather and increased nuclear generation. Europe, given its underutilised regasification capacity and liquid gas hubs, acts as a sink for excess LNG cargoes.
Further out the curve, the combination of lower spot prices and weaker oil, coal and carbon weighed on forward prices. Contracts for delivery this summer continued to lose value as the market anticipates continued strong supplies for the remainder of the period. The front month June contract broke under 30p to settle 5p lower at 28.28p/th. Contracts beyond this summer also succumbed to weaker sentiment with the winter 2019 contract dropping 3.13p to close the month at 52.15p/th, while the summer 2020 contract gave up a relatively muted 1.38p/th to settle at 44.12p/th.
Coal falls to $57 a tonne…
Coal prices settled at $57 a tonne in May, a drop of over 3% compared to the previous month and 37% lower year-on-year.
Demand for coal continued to decline in May, with the outlook remaining weak. Europe has continued to see strong coal to gas switching as gas prices fell, with the coal burn in Japan also declining with the onset of spring and as utilities undertake maintenance to their coal plants. The UK also had its first ever fortnight of coal-free operation of the UK electricity system in May, which helped coal-fired generation hit a record low of 21 GWh.
Towards the end of May, coal prices dropped to $57 a tonne, on muted coal demand and high stock levels which reduced China’s appetite for imports. China’s coal demand is expected to further weaken after local governments ordered hundreds of cement plants to shut down from June to September in a bid to curb air pollution. This is expected to have a dampening impact on coal demand, which could result in prices softening even further.
Electricity decreases 1% in May…
The average day-ahead price went from €49.41/MWh in April to €48.92/MWh in May, a reduction of 1% over the month. Wholesale electricity prices typically track the cost of imported gas as it is the most significant cost in the production of electricity. However, this can vary on a month-to-month basis.
Wind output was down 36% to 873MW versus 1360MW the previous month and the average portion of demand met by wind in May was 21.7%.
Mixed month for the euro, trading lower against the dollar but up on the pound…
It was a mixed month for the euro which traded weaker versus the dollar but gained strongly against the pound. The single currency settled at $1.1162 versus the greenback, a fall of 0.5%, and at £0.8839 versus the pound, a gain of 2.8%.
The dominant story in May was escalating trade tensions and the threat they represent to global growth. The US imposed a range of tariffs on over $200 billion of Chinese imports, while China retaliated and imposed tariffs on a range of US goods. Adding to growth concerns were threats from President Trump that he would impose additional tariffs on Mexico unless they acted to curb illegal immigration into the US.
On the Brexit front, the prospects for the current withdrawal agreement were dealt a fatal blow with the announcement that the Prime Minister, Theresa May, would step down. The ex-Foreign Secretary, and Brexit figurehead, Boris Johnson is the favourite to succeed Theresa May as Conservative party leader and UK Prime Minister. All in all, events during the month have increased the prospects of a disorderly no-deal Brexit significantly and Sterling weakened accordingly.
For more information, see the full Energy Index at bordgaisenergy.ie/energyindex/.