After three weeks of bullish misses on storage, natural gas forwards markets finally saw a bump in prices that lifted most markets by less than five cents, according to NGI’s Forward Look data from Oct. 30-Nov. 5.
The Nymex December contract settled Nov. 5 at $2.364, up 4.2 cents from Oct. 30. The balance of winter (January-March) was up 4.9 cents to $2.553.
Slightly stronger gains were seen in California.
At the Pacific Gas & Electric citygates, the December fixed price rose 5 cents between Oct. 30 and Nov. 5 to reach $2.759, and the balance of winter climbed 5.7 cents to $2.83, Forward Look data shows.
Southern California Border December was up 5.9 cents during that time to $2.52, while the balance of winter was up 5.7 cents to $2.83.
In the Rockies, Northwest Pipeline-Wyoming Pool December climbed 5 cents to $2.367, and the balance of winter picked up 5.8 cents to $2.473.
There were some exceptions to the modest gains seen across the country as the typically premium-priced Northeast markets continued to slide as temperatures remain well above average in the region.
At New England’s Algonquin Gas Transmission citygates, December plunged 19.2 cents to $5.833, while the balance of winter slid 12.4 cents to $7.704, according to Forward Look data.
Transco zone 6-New York December was down about 24 cents to $3.787, and the balance of winter was down 8.7 cents to $6.641.
Aside from the Northeast, the overall strength in the markets comes as the United States Energy Information Administration reported a 52 Bcf build to storage inventories for the week ending Oct. 30, below expectations in the upper 50 Bcf area.
This marks the third time in as many weeks that the EIA’s storage report came in below market consensus, only this time, the bulls came out and managed to push futures and most forwards prices into the black.
“Given that we are in November, I don’t think that we can consider an injection figure that comes in below consensus, for whatever reason, to be ‘bullish’. Any injection we get from here through the next few weeks is bearish,” said Patrick Rau, NGI director of strategy and research.
Indeed, some in the market say this week’s modest rally is likely short-lived, as both uncertainty in long-term weather and ongoing weakness in the cash market continue to weigh on the market.
“I think this is a just a temporary resting point,” a Northeast trader said. “The weather is not supportive longer term. Getting back to normal isn’t enough.”
Teri Viswanath, director of commodity research at BNP Paribas, agreed any gains made this week are vulnerable to reversals as fundamentals don’t support a sustained rally.
“Thursday’s rally appears to be out of step with the cash markets,” Viswanath said.
Until last month, cash prices across most of the country averaged in the $2.70-2.80 range, with futures prices mostly aligning within that range.
But come mid-October, cash prices fell to even lower levels as the market struggled to manage excess supply, with most major hubs falling below $2, Viswanath said.
“And while the inevitable build in heating demand should alleviate some of the current congestion, meaningful price recovery will likely only occur with the systematic reduction in stocks.”
The problem is that with sustained cold weather not likely for at least a couple more weeks, storage inventories are likely to continue growing through November and possibly into early December, according to several industry experts.
Current inventories are at 3.929 Tcf, on par with the record storage level recorded in 2012.
Meanwhile, forecasters with NatGasWeather said while it’s becoming more likely that additional cold blasts will hit the northern U.S. during the second half of November, the weather pattern is quite unstable.
“While we expect colder Canadian air to push across the U.S. border, there are no guarantees which regions will be impacted greatest, with an unusually large spread of possibilities from the West to East coasts,” NatGasWeather said.
Indeed, projections from Genscape show demand rising over most of the country over the next couple of weeks.
In the high-demand Appalachian region, demand is projected to hit 9.29 Bcf/d Nov. 6 and then rise to 12.49 Bcf/d by Nov. 13 and to 12.62 Bcf/d by Nov. 20, according to Genscape.
Genscape, based in Louisville, KY, provides real-time data and intelligence for energy and commodity markets.
For New England, Genscape shows demand reaching 2.36 Bcf/d Nov. 6 and then rising to 2.77 Bcf/d on Nov. 13 and to 2.78 Bcf/d by Nov. 20.
In the Midwest, demand is forecast to hit 8.9 Bcf/d Nov. 6, climb to 9.68 Bcf/d on Nov. 13 and then rise to 9.80 Bcf/d by Nov. 20.