A Bright Spot at the Bottom of the Barrel

Asphalt and road oil are used primarily by the construction industry for roofing and waterproofing and for road construction. Asphalt is a byproduct of petroleum refining. During the distillation process of crude oil, asphalt does not boil off and is left as a heavy residue. Generally around 90% of crude is turned into high margin products such as gasoline, diesel, jet fuel, and petrochemicals while the other 10% is converted into asphalt and other low margin products. Petroleum refiners sell asphalt to asphalt product manufacturers who produce retail products such as asphalt paving mixtures and blocks; asphalt emulsions; prepared asphalt and tar roofing and siding products; and roofing asphalts and pitches, coating, and cement.

Refining Overview

There are four main components to refined product prices: (1) Input Prices (i.e. crude oil), (2) Wholesale Margins, (3) Retail Distribution Costs, and (4) Taxes. Generally, input prices and wholesale margins drive fluctuations in product prices as the last two are relatively stable. Thus, in order to understand refined product prices we consider the macroeconomics trends in the global oil and gas market which drive input prices.

What Would Warren Buffet Do?

It caught investors’ attention when Warren Buffet further increased his stake in Phillips 66 from 78.782 million shares as of June 30, 2016 to 79.6 million as of August 30, 2016. He now has invested over $6 billion in Phillips 66 and owns almost 15% of Phillips’ available shares. His recent move has sparked a lot of questions regarding what Warren Buffet was thinking.

How Sweet It Was

Refiners anticipated crude oil exports would increase when the export ban was lifted which reduced excess supply in the US and relieved the downward pressure on market prices. Once the price of crude increased in the US, refiners profit margins shrink, and profits shrank as expected. But with falling crude prices worldwide, the compression of downstream margins cannot be explained by the story refiners expected.