With a mix of overnight changes following recent bearish weather trends, natural gas futures were trading slightly lower early Tuesday. The April Nymex futures contract was off 1.0 cent at $2.762 shortly after 8:30 a.m. ET.
Guidance has been “considerably milder” the past two days, showing less impressive cold this weekend and next week, as well as a milder pattern toward the last week of March, according to NatGasWeather. The forecaster viewed the overnight data as mixed, with the Global Forecast System adding back some demand but not enough to counter the demand losses forecasts advertised on Monday.
“The European model was further milder trending, especially for March 23-26 where it’s now warm enough to likely lead to the first injection to supplies of the year,” NatGasWeather said.
The potential for deficits to widen to 600 Bcf versus the five-year average with the next three Energy Information Administration (EIA) storage reports creates a bullish background state, according to the forecaster. But the April and May contracts “finally took out strong support of $2.82 Monday as the natural gas markets again proved to be much more sensitive” to milder forecast trends than colder trends.
Energy Aspects is looking for this week’s EIA report to show one of the largest withdrawals of the season and a potential record for the month of March. The firm issued a preliminary estimate for a 220 Bcf withdrawal for the week ended March 8.
While the early March cold blast that briefly pushed Henry Hub spot prices above $4 last week occurred “too late in the heating season to drive a cash-led rally along the Nymex curve, another significant late season paring of inventories is contributing to supportive fundamentals for injection season 2019,” Energy Aspects analysts said.
Following last week’s storage report, the firm revised its end-March carryout projection down to 950 Bcf, compared to 1.0 Tcf a week earlier.
“We project the largest-ever weekly withdrawal in any March on record, of 220 Bcf for the week ending March 8, easily topping the 198 Bcf draw in the first week of March 2015,” the firm said. “Injection season 2019 balances are sending the same signal as this time last year -- namely, that end-October storage carryout is set to be at a critical balancing point of 3.4 Tcf, assuming 10-year normal weather.”
Meanwhile, the spring nuclear outage season has started ramping up, and the amount of nuclear generating capacity currently offline has come in higher than expected and above year-ago levels, according to Genscape Inc.
“In the past week, five plants with a combined capacity of nearly 8.2 GW were taken offline on schedule,” Genscape senior natural gas analyst Rick Margolin said. “This raises the total amount of nuclear nameplate capacity offline to 17.86 GW. On a purely one-to-one basis this would translate to about 3 Bcf/d of replacement gas burn, but that does not take into consideration generation from renewables like wind and hydro (which both rise in the spring), coal, and generally lower loads in the spring.
“Current outage levels are, however, nearly 7 GW greater than this same time last year, and about 5 GW higher than what had been scheduled entering spring.”
The majority of current nuclear outages are focused in the Southeast and Mid-Atlantic region, according to Margolin.
“Scheduled outages for the balance of March are expected to sustain a year-on-year increase, however, only for this month,” he said. “Scheduled outages for April and May are expected to each be more than 5 GW lower than their respective months in 2018, and June outages are scheduled to be about 3 GW lower, resulting in a total spring turnaround with less capacity on outage than last year.”
April crude oil futures were up 47 cents to $57.26/bbl shortly after 8:30 a.m. ET, while April RBOB gasoline was up fractionally to $1.8271/gal.