Global natural gas prices have started off strong this week with a number of variables supporting benchmarks as winter draws nearer.

The prompt Dutch Title Transfer Facility (TTF), National Balancing Point (NBP) and Japan Korea Marker (JKM) are all at or near levels not seen since last year, while Henry Hub futures traded above $3.00/MMBtu last week for the first time in nearly two years and finished above that mark again on Monday and Tuesday. 

In Europe, cooler temperatures, less output from Norway and a spike in demand in Asia, where JKM spot and futures prices have rallied this month and are above $7.00, have reinforced TTF and NBP. 

But the European benchmarks were headed for a second straight day of losses on Tuesday. LNG sendout levels have started increasing, with the number of cargoes currently set to unload through mid-November growing to 23 between northwestern and southern European markets, according to Schneider Electric. Russian pipeline imports have also remained strong. 

Meanwhile, a spike in coronavirus cases that has also weighed heavily on Brent crude prices in recent trading sessions has prompted warnings about additional lockdowns in Europe. That has influenced natural gas given a recent downturn in the continent’s power markets and carbon prices that have declined on the electricity demand outlook, said trading firm Energi Danmark. 

“The market is still very close to a year-high level, however, as fears of winter supply and concerns about the impact of La Niña still dominate the markets,” Energi Danmark said in a morning note on Tuesday. “We expect the market to stabilize today.”

The strengthening gas market has led to a ramp in shipping activity, said Fearnleys AS. Charter rates have risen sharply and vessel availability is likely to soon be scarce, the shipbroker said in a note last week. 

“We hear that the number of shipping inquiries received by players with available tonnage have heightened considerably and this is creating interesting opportunities for fleet optimization, cargo sales and freight trading,” Fearnleys said. “The winter market has only started, and it remains to be seen where shipping rate levels could end up in the weeks to come.”

LNG supply issues in Australia, Europe and the United States have also pushed up prices this month, along with reported liquefaction cuts in Nigeria and Malaysia. 

A sunken rock barge remains in the Calcasieu Ship Channel as does a semi-submersible drilling rig that is grounded in the Sabine Bank Channel. Both of the waterways are in Louisiana and restricted vessel movements to Cameron LNG and Sabine Pass LNG last week. But cargoes are moving again, with seven vessels having left Sabine Pass and another three having left Cameron since last week, according to Bloomberg ship tracking data. 

Feed gas deliveries to U.S. terminals spiked on Sunday to 9.39 Bcf and were holding near 9 Bcf on Tuesday, which helped support Henry Hub as the week got underway along with positive weather models.

Meanwhile, Tropical Storm Zeta is expected to make landfall on the Gulf Coast Wednesday night amid a particularly active Atlantic Hurricane Season. The storm is “forecast to be at or near hurricane strength” when it approaches the Gulf Coast, according to the National Hurricane Center. But the storm’s path now shows it landing farther east of LNG infrastructure in Louisiana closer to the Alabama and Mississippi borders. 

Genscape Inc. estimates early Tuesday showed Gulf of Mexico dry gas production sliding to 447 MMcf/d, down from more than 1.5 Bcf/d on Sunday as operators prepared for Zeta’s arrival.