Natural Gas: Sizing Up The Late Winter Cold With Bets Under $3

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The window for winter is fast closing, hastening the guessing game on how many outsize weekly draws of natural gas there may be left for heating.

Natural Gas: Sizing Up The Late Winter Cold With Bets Under $3

Natural Gas Daily Chart

The official start of spring in two weeks means much of the United States will be covered with warmer weather before the end of March.

It’s a shift already being priced into gas futures on the New York Mercantile Exchange’s Henry Hub, which barely moved more than four cents a day in the past four sessions.

Coming Weekly Drawdowns Could Still Surprise

Yet, with this being one of the coldest pre-spring periods in years, weekly consumption data could still surprise—making it still possible for investors with the right positions to profit, although it might be more difficult to make a killing without the volatility of recent months.

Data relative to last week’s consumption, due at 10:30 AM ET (15:30) today, is expected to be another example of gas drawdowns exceeding historical levels.

According to a Reuters poll, analysts expect the U.S. Energy Information Administration to say that utilities withdrew 141 billion cubic feet (bcf) of gas from storage for the week ending on March 1. That would be more than double the 60 bcf consumption in the same week a year ago and significantly above the five-year average of 109 bcf.

Dan Myers, of Houston-based gas markets consultancy Gelber & Associates, said notwithstanding last week’s draw, this week’s consumption—data for which would be available March 14—might be even more consequential. The analyst is forecasting a 191-bcf decrease from storage that will be more than double the five-year average.

Said Myers:

“Although withdrawals will moderate significantly later in March, they’re still likely to come in near-or-above average.”

Number Of Heating Degree Days May Continue To Rise

He said the East Coast, which influences gas pricing more than any region in the United States, has potential for more unseasonably-cold temperatures in the second half of March, a phenomenon that could drive up Heating Degree Days (HDDs) and prevent a clear transition to spring.

HDDs measure the number of degrees a day’s average temperature is below 65 Fahrenheit (18 Celsius) and are used to estimate demand to heat homes and businesses. According to the Reuters poll from last week, there were 181 heating degree days last week, compared with 125 HDDs in the same week a year ago and a 30-year normal of 159 HDDs for the period.

If indeed consumption hit 141-bcf last week, after the previous week’s decline of 166 bcf, total gas inventory left in storage would be 1.4 trillion cubic feet—the lowest level since 2014 for the start of March.

It’s not immediately clear how bullish that would be for price action on the Henry Hub.

Myers expects the inventory drop of more than 30% below the five-year average to provide support beyond the spot gas contract for April on the Henry Hub. In Wednesday’s trade, April gas settled at $2.841 per million metric British thermal units (mmBtu), down 3% on the year.

Said Myers:

“The significance of these low storage levels is likely to continue to support upward pressure on the spring and summer 2019 contracts as the path of the final storage decreases becomes clearer.”

Prices Remain Supported But Under $3

Dominick Chirichella, director of risk and trading at the DTN-owned Energy Management Institute in New York, also believes April gas will trade higher but under the key $3 per mmBtu level in the near term.

Said Chirichella:

“The current technical trading range boundaries for the contract remain at $2.737 per mmBtu on the support side and $2.90 per mmBtu on the resistance end.”

But compared with Myers, Chirichella has a more neutral near-term market outlook.

He added:

“With only a few weeks left to the official winter heating season, the market is going to need a sustained cold spell for prices to enter a strong upside rally. I do not expect such an occurrence.”

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