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Natural Gas Futures Erase Gains Despite Big US Supply Decline

February 13, 2020 at 19:31 by Andrew Moran

Natural gas futures have pared their gains on Thursday, despite the US government reporting a bigger-than-expected decline in domestic supplies of the energy commodity. Investors are ostensibly yawning on the report, losing all hope of large gains amid mild winter weather. With just one month left of the season, traders are not anticipating subzero temperatures to help lift demand and prices.

March natural gas futures tumbled $0.01, or 0.5%, to $1.835 per million British thermal units (btu) at 18:19 GMT on Thursday on the New York Mercantile Exchange. Natural gas prices are poised for a weekly drop of nearly 2%, adding to their year-to-date losses of 16%. Over the last 12 months, the energy source has taken a beating as prices have cratered 29%.

According to the US Energy Information Administration (EIA), domestic inventories decreased by 115 billion cubic feet for the week ending February 7. The market had forecast a slide of 108 billion cubic feet. In total, US supplies stand at 2.494 trillion cubic feet, up 601 billion cubic feet from the same time a year ago. They are also 215 billion cubic feet above the five-year average.

Traders shrugged on the data, particularly after the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) anticipated warmer-than-normal temperatures across most of the US over the next eight to 14 days.

Christin Redmond, the commodity analyst at Schneider Electric, wrote in a research note that you can expect greater pressure on prices.

With the little remainder of winter waning away, the possibility of a late-season return to colder temperatures to prop up heating demand becomes bleak.

Meanwhile, the EIA released its Short-Term Energy Outlook (STEO) on Tuesday and trimmed its 2020 natural gas price forecast. The US government believes natural gas will stay below $2 to finish the first quarter and then average $2.21 throughout the remainder of the year.

Warmer-than-normal temperatures helped send natural gas front-month futures prices to their lowest level in many years. Typically, January natural gas prices are among the highest of the year.

The spread between the two values can be wide in winters with cold temperatures (as defined by HDD) in January. The difference between the first and third month contracts averaged more than 30 cents/MMBtu during January of 2014, 2018, and 2019. Both 2014 and 2018 had more HDD than the 10-year average. However, in years with milder-than-normal weather in January, the spread is generally far smaller or even negative.

Should prices stagnate, the EIA thinks liquefied natural gas (LNG) exports could slump, though it did leave its projections unchanged from last month’s report.

In other energy markets, March West Texas Intermediate (WTI) crude oil futures picked up $0.15, or 0.29%, to $51.32 per barrel. April Brent crude futures added $0.36, or 0.65%, to $56.15 a barrel. March gasoline futures were flat at $1.58 a gallon. March heating oil futures were also flat at $1.6765 per gallon.

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