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‘Unimpressive’ Long-Range Forecast as Natural Gas Futures Down Early

With the latest guidance offering a bearish outlook on long-range weather-driven demand, natural gas futures were trading lower early Friday. The April Nymex futures contract was down 3.4 cents to $2.821/MMBtu shortly after 8:30 a.m. ET.

The overnight weather data was mixed, including a small amount of warming from American model guidance as the European model added some gas-weighted degree days (GWDD) to the outlook, according to Bespoke Weather Services. Overall, however, the forecaster said it views weather risk as “skewed in a bearish direction heading toward April.”

“It is clear that the pattern should warm in a way where GWDDs can fall below average through Week 2, though they likely do stay relatively close to climatological averages,” Bespoke said. This comes from a combination of a positive Pacific/North American teleconnection and negative Eastern Pacific oscillation pattern upstream, along with a “strong Nino-like upstream jet that allows storms to undercut this blocking, keeping the South cool and stormy.

“However, into April this will begin to limit cooling demand as it allows some weak heating demand to linger, and overall demand beyond this short-term cold shot appears quite unimpressive overall.”

Meanwhile, analysts continued to digest this week’s hefty storage withdrawal and what it suggests about market balance as the start of injections nears.

The Energy Information Administration on Thursday reported a 204 Bcf withdrawal from U.S. gas stocks for the week ended March 8, on the low side of survey ranges but bullish compared to the five-year average 99 Bcf withdrawal and last year’s 88 Bcf pull. Total working gas in underground storage stood at 1,186 Bcf as of March 8, 359 Bcf (23.2%) below year-ago inventories and 569 Bcf (32.4%) below the five-year average.

“Weather-adjusted, the market was roughly balanced” for this week’s storage report period “and over the past weeks has trended to a slight undersupply,” according to analysts with Tudor, Pickering, Holt & Co. “Looking forward, forecasts are calling for a bifurcation in temperatures, with the North experiencing warmer-than-normal temperatures and the South experiencing colder-than-normal temperatures, while longer-term, temperatures are trending toward the seasonal average before we enter spring.

“Finally, U.S. production (up just under 100 MMcf/d week/week) has yet to recover as maintenance/outages in the Permian and Denver-Julesburg basins have kept a lid on volumes.”

Genscape Inc. analysts similarly viewed this week’s withdrawal figure as neutral, neither tight nor loose, versus the five-year average when compared to degree days and normal seasonality.

Analysts with Raymond James & Associates said after adjusting for weather-related demand, the 204 Bcf withdrawal implies the market was 3.0 Bcf/d looser versus the same week last year. The market has averaged 3.2 Bcf/d looser over the past four weeks, they said.

April crude oil futures were trading 40 cents lower at $58.21/bbl shortly after 8:30 a.m. ET Friday, while April RBOB gasoline was off about 1.9 cents to $1.8304/gal.

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