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Credit Suisse Eyes Inventories, Raises U.S. NatGas Price Forecast

All things being equal, i.e., "normal" summer temperatures, domestic natural gas producers need more price incentives to generate enough storage ahead of next winter, the head of global commodity energy research for Credit Suisse said Wednesday. Hotter than normal temps, even with demand destruction, could push prices well above $5.00.

Summer gas prices have to stay high to refill storage ahead of withdrawal season, Jan Stuart said during a conference call.

The full-year 2014 price now is forecast to average $4.70/Mcf, versus an earlier prediction of $4.30. The forecasts by quarter are higher than earlier predictions, as well as above the futures strip and consensus estimates.

Credit Suisse expect prices to average $4.90 in 2Q2014, versus an earlier forecast of $4.25. Between July and September, prices average $4.80, versus $4.35. And in the final quarter, prices should average $4.20 from an earlier forecast of $3.75. The current futures strip sees prices at $4.42 in 2Q2014; $4.46 in 3Q2014 and $4.52 in 4Q2014. Consensus estimates are $4.20 in 2Q2014, $4.24 in 3Q2014 and $4.40 in the final period.

"We are more optimistic on our price for summer," said Stuart. "We think we need the higher price...$4.50 is not enough."

He discussed the "unmatched cold in this previous winter, which depleted U.S. gas inventories to under 900 Bcf. November-January heating degree days were the highest in 17 years. The winter cold extended the year/year deficits.

Analysts believe they are correct in their forecast because the "market is going to have to solve injecting up to 3.8 Tcf in the ground by the end of summer," Stuart said. "No. 2, production growth is going to be somewhat of a constraint until the end of the year. We need more midstream infrastructure online, both for pipelines and processing plants.

"That means we need to destroy demand, so to speak, to have enough supply to stick in storage..."At a higher price, there would be enough demand destruction to burn coal...If the summer gets hot, summer prices will go well over $5.00."

To reach 3.8 Tcf by October, Credit Suisse said about 3.2 Bcf/d of demand needs to be destroyed through the summer.

There is a "fear that there's not enough flexibility on the power generation side" to accommodate gas-to-coal switching, he said. And "weather could wreak havoc on the central tendency" for how high gas prices may go.

There are some risks, of course. Gas supply growth in the United States last year lagged that of 2012 and 2011, Stuart noted.

Most of the gas production growth again is sighted to be from the Marcellus Shale, with a "significant" amount of gas drawn by Eagle Ford Shale producers, Stuart said. "The only declines are to the south and west of the Northeast production basins."

However, analysts are keeping an eye on the Haynesville Shale, said the Credit Suisse analyst. "That's where there might be a surprise to the upside in production."

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