Monday, July 26, 2010

Ethanol 4th Quarter 2010 – Is it a Train Wreck?

By the 4th quarter of this year, the industry is scheduled to bring on another 550 mln gallons of annual capacity. This represents another 36,000 bpd of new production. By October of this year, the driving gasoline demand bump with have dissipated reducing overall gasoline demand by 250,000 bpd resulting in the loss of another 26,000 bpd of ethanol demand. This assumes that ethanol blending penetration stays in the low 80’s% through the balance of the year. We think the blending penetration staying in this range as a good assumption based on the very low price for 2010 ethanol RINs tracking in the 1.5-2.0 cpg range.

Export opportunities will be limited because of certification requirements for renewable fuels into Europe go into effect in December and it is uncertain if US producers will go to the trouble of getting their supply chain certified. Brazil may be an export outlet, but with very strict ethanol specification for imports, it is difficult to produce and move significant quantities of this type of ethanol to Brazil to relieve length in the US ethanol market.

On the positive side, if we assume $4/bushel corn and $75/barrel crude oil, there will still be a 20-40 cpg blending incentive for ethanol even without renewal of the VEETC. The EPA will issue a ruling on some type of E12 or E15 waiver by September. This will be good news psychologically for the ethanol market but the higher blends could not be realistically implemented until the middle of 2011 offering no physical relief to the market in the 4th quarter. Renewal of the VEETC prior to its expiration again is psychological but will not affect demand in the 4th quarter.
The market is paying a 6.4 cpg premium for Q1-2011 swaps over prompt pricing. The market sees the E12/E15 waiver, the higher RFS2 mandate of 12.6 bln gallons, the elimination of the small refiner exemption as all changes that will kick in for Q1. It should be noted that during the 1st quarter of any year, gasoline demand falls another 250,000 bpd below demand levels experienced in the 4th quarter due to winter weather. Even though there is good news for the 2011 market, Q1 may be too soon for this good news to physically impact the market resulting in higher ethanol prices and plant margins.

The corn crush margins for Q4-2010 and Q1-2011 are in the 24-26 cpg range which are not sustainable for the industry.

With an industry at a nameplate capacity of 14 bln gallons in the 4th quarter and demand softening or at best staying flat, ethanol plant margins are going to come under strong pressure resulting in some temporary plant slowdowns or shutdowns to balance supply and demand.

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