Continuing the months-long tradition of back-and-forth trading, October natural gas futures gained back almost half of Monday's 20.2-cent decline on Tuesday. The prompt-month contract added 9.7 cents to close the regular session at $3.919.
On the radar for at least some market watchers are the ripening conditions for a hurricane to impact Gulf of Mexico energy operations sometime in the next month. Others see the market at $4 as undervalued considering current fundamentals. Without much of a shift in current fundamentals, Citi Futures Perspective analyst Tim Evans said he believes futures could make a run to $4.500.
"The natural gas market has bobbed back up after Monday's downside test like a log pushed under the water will pop back up to the surface," he said. "The resilience fits with our hypothesis that the natural gas market is undervalued, with storage 5.3% lower than a year ago as of Sept. 10, and prices about even with this point last year, when nearby prices were about to climb sharply to the $5.30 area in mid-October.
"The shift to above-average storage injections beginning with the week ended Sept. 10 may be the shape of things to come over the next few weeks, and so any rally will have to work without the support of a declining storage surplus and so it's not the most consistent of bullish set-ups, but we do see more upside potential than downside risk from current levels. Any storm in the Gulf of Mexico would tend to solidify the case for higher values."
Billing it as "Troptober," AccuWeather meteorologist Alex Sosnowski said changing conditions in the tropics could make October a month to remember in terms of tropical storm and hurricane activity. "The possibility of impact from multiple tropical storms or hurricanes spanning the shores of the Caribbean to the southeastern U.S. could set the stage for tropical troubles during October," he said. "The 14-day period beginning in late September into mid-October could yield three to five named systems in these waters. The amount of disruptions to travel and oil/gas production, as well as flooding, damage and risk to human lives caused by these storms, would depend on their strength and exact location."
Sosnowski explained that the current La Nina and its associated cool waters in the tropical Pacific have created a tremendous imbalance, which must be dealt with via tropical cyclones in the southwest part of the Atlantic Basin where warm waters have led to a buildup of heat.
"The tropics may make up for lost time in terms of direct impacts from tropical storms and/or hurricanes on the U.S., as the nearby waters of the Gulf of Mexico, Caribbean and the southwestern Atlantic are primed to explode during October," he said.
Analysts see the market now factoring in the economics of shale gas production. "Baker Hughes reported the addition of two more gas rigs in the latest week [to 982], and traders are starting to come to grips with the new economics of shale gas production, which is profitable at lower price levels than was previously the case for conventional drilling operations," said Peter Beutel, president of Cameron Hanover, a Connecticut-based energy consulting firm. Beutel is circumspect about the impact of broader economic developments, calling it "difficult to say how big a factor economic news has been this year -- either higher or lower."
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