Coming off a new low for the move of $4.182 on Monday, September natural gas futures recorded a low of $4.186 on Tuesday before rebounding to close at $4.267, up 3.9 cents from the previous day's finish.
Even as tropical weather threats continue to fail to materialize, some market watchers point to a number of other fundamentals that stand in contrast to the market's recent slump. "The natural gas market continues its weak price performance, largely ignoring a constructive storage trend and the outlook for warmer-than-normal temperatures that will likely continue to limit storage injections over the next few weeks, and focusing on the level of tropical activity instead," said Tim Evans, an analyst with Citi Futures Perspective in New York.
He said it appears the market is "openly skeptical" regarding both the seasonal tendency for 80% of all Atlantic Basin hurricane activity to occur after Aug. 15 as well as the forecasts for an active season this year. "We've even heard some market chatter to the effect that hurricanes are actually bearish, since they can cut demand more than they reduce production," Evans added. "We're not of that belief, however, and can point to the price action associated with a long series of past storm events as evidence. The all-time high in natural gas prices of $15.78, for example, followed hurricanes Katrina and Rita. And while the U.S. is less dependent on supplies from the Gulf of Mexico than it was in 2005, it still accounts for 10% of the U.S. total."
The analyst added that production in the Gulf is first at risk, while the consumption portion of the market is more safely ashore.
Looking at the current situation in the tropics, it appears all areas are safe for the time being. "Now that the remnants of [Tropical Depression 5] are moving into the northern Gulf Coast, development of this system has died," AccuWeather.com said Tuesday afternoon. "However, we are looking at a strong wave in the Caribbean and far eastern Atlantic for development."
Analysts saw Monday's 10-cent drop as the result of moderating temperature forecasts and a market that is becoming less enchanted with the idea of any boost from tropical developments. Jim Ritterbusch of Ritterbusch and Associates said he sees a hurricane season "that is shaping up to be a repeat of last year's unusually subdued pattern. A large chunk of storm premium was injected into the natural gas market a couple of months ago when most forecasts were suggesting an unusually active season."
By now, "this weather-related risk premium is being extracted from the market on almost a daily basis in the absence of any significant tropical storm development across the Atlantic," he added. "When the weather factor is unable to prompt much excitement, traders tend to shift focus back to the supply side where a bearish interpretation is undeniable."
Weather bulls can expect continued warm temperatures to boost power generation requirements. The National Weather Service for the week ending Aug. 21 expects above-normal accumulations of cooling degree days (CDD) in major energy markets. New England can expect 49 CDD, or 18 more than normal, and New York, New Jersey and Pennsylvania should swelter under 63 CDD, or 18 more than normal. The Midwest should see 59 CDD, or 16 more than its normal tally.
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