© Reuters. FILE PHOTO: Common view of the Marathon petroleum refinery in Carson, California

By Laura Sanicola

NEW YORK (Reuters) – U.S. refiners are girding for a painful slate of fourth-quarter earnings, reflecting the strain of rising crude costs, weak demand because of renewed COVID-19 journey restrictions, and better prices of related to mixing of renewable fuels into their merchandise.

Seven U.S. impartial refiners are projected to put up a mean earnings-per-share lack of $1.51, down from a lack of $1.06 within the third quarter of 2020, in keeping with IBES information from Refinitiv.

Each Credit score Suisse (SIX:) and Tudor Pickering Holt reduce lowered the value estimates of each U.S. impartial refiner for the fourth quarter.

“[This] would mark the weakest quarter of the yr,” stated Matthew Blair, analyst at Tudor Pickering Holt and Co.

Within the fourth quarter, impartial refiners together with Marathon Petroleum (NYSE:), Valero Power (NYSE:) and Phillips 66 (NYSE:) coped with uneven demand because of a resurgence of coronavirus circumstances worldwide.

Consumption of liquid fuels globally is estimated to have fallen by 9 million barrels per day in 2020, in keeping with the U.S. Power Info Administration.

benchmarks rallied greater than 20% within the quarter, which squeezed U.S. refining margins to lower than $10 a barrel on common – the brink for which most refiners earn a living – for almost all of the fourth quarter.

In the meantime, more durable restrictions on socializing and companies clamped down on visitors in states like California, essentially the most populous U.S. state and one of many largest driving markets on the earth. Journey on U.S. roads fell by 11% in November from the year-ago interval, after a 9% drop in October, in keeping with the U.S. Transportation Division.

Lockdowns in numerous European nations suppressed worldwide flights and jet gasoline demand within the quarter.

Delta Airways (NYSE:)’ refinery in Coach, Pennsylvania, in early January posted a $102 million refining phase loss within the fourth quarter, and a $441 million loss on third celebration gasoline gross sales.

Within the fourth quarter, refiners additionally needed to pay extra for U.S. renewable gasoline credit, which reached a three-year excessive earlier this month. The associated fee for Renewable Identification Numbers – the credit used for compliance with U.S. biofuels mixing legal guidelines – elevated by 47 cents per barrel from the third quarter because of rising ethanol and biodiesel costs.

Refiners are required, by regulation, to mix biofuels into their gasoline pool, or pay up so others can do the identical. The pandemic has decreased mixing exercise usually, and consequently, fewer credit have been issued, rising their prices.

Credit score Suisse analyst Manav Gupta stated Phillips 66 will lose $1.16 per share within the quarter. He had initially anticipated a 30-cent loss, however modified that because of decrease refining earnings within the Gulf Coast, West Coast and Midwest markets.

“Gross sales may also see earnings down as crude value rose sharply quarter over quarter and lockdowns impacted volumes,” stated Gupta in a observe.

U.S. refining margins began to enhance across the vacation season, and have been round $12.50 per barrel. Refining charges rose final week to their highest since March, authorities information confirmed. Nevertheless, at about 80% of capability, refiners are producing roughly 2 million fewer barrels than on the similar time final yr.

“Whereas refiners could also be getting paid the identical quantity for gasoline as final yr, it is on a lot decrease manufacturing,” stated Bob Yawger, director for power market futures at Mizuho.

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