Capping off a wild week of trading for both energy markets and beyond, natural gas futures inched higher Friday, boosted by a more supportive weather outlook and the prospect of future production cuts. The April Nymex contract picked up 2.8 cents to settle at $1.869/MMBtu after trading as high as $1.951 and as low as $1.795.
In the spot market, most hubs tacked on gains for three-day deals ahead of cooler temperatures expected to move through northern portions of the Lower 48 over the weekend; NGI’s Spot Gas National Avg. climbed 9.5 cents to $1.700.
The latest weather model runs Friday added to demand expectations for the next couple weeks, building on colder overnight trends, according to NatGasWeather. The European model advertised a gain of more than 50 Bcf in demand compared to the outlook from 24 hours earlier, the forecaster said.
“The latest European model was further colder trending with a weather system across the northern U.S. mid-next week, but especially colder with another one that follows March 21-23 as it takes a notably deeper track across the Midwest, Ohio Valley and Northeast,” NatGasWeather said. “It’s quite possible the latest European model trended a little too cold, but if it didn’t, weather patterns won’t be as bearish on the reopen as the markets were expecting just 12-24 hours ago.”
Natural gas price moves during the week appeared to be “accentuated by equities,” a trend that continued into Friday’s session as early gains in the stock market corresponded with a rally for gas, analysts at EBW Analytics Group said.
“We expect seesaw trading to continue, with the market torn between very weak near-term fundamentals and bulls expecting production to plummet and natural gas to post gains,” EBW analysts said.
Uncertainties abound regarding the coronavirus pandemic, which has alarmed investors and piled on downward pressure on crude prices.
As for what it might mean for natural gas, analysts at Genscape Inc. said Friday they’re operating with a preliminary baseline assumption that demand impacts from efforts to contain the outbreak could resemble the impact of the typical weekend reductions in consumption.
“At present, it appears that the coronavirus-triggered precautions are compelling more employees to work from home, closing some businesses and shutting schools, trends common to weekends,” Genscape senior natural gas analyst Rick Margolin said. “Generally speaking, the ”weekend effect’ lops demand by about 7% compared to mid-week levels. Since 2014, the effect in March is actually smaller, about a 4% drop versus weekdays.”
Genscape estimates show this would mean a roughly 3 Bcf/d decline in demand for March. For April, the impact of weekend-like conditions would mean a 5 Bcf/d drop compared to weekday levels, and for May this would be a 5.6 Bcf/d drop-off.
“The actual impact, though, could likely be greater than a standard weekend effect as some businesses retreat from even baseline operations; businesses that do normally operate during weekend are removed from the stack; large-gathering energy-drawing events like sporting matches and conferences are canceled; and the fact that this doesn’t account for any potential recessionary impacts,” according to Margolin.
Meanwhile, the Energy Information Administration (EIA) Thursday reported a 48 Bcf weekly withdrawal from U.S. gas stocks, to the bearish side of expectations and also much smaller than historical norms. Last year, EIA recorded a 164 Bcf pull for the similar week, and the five-year average is a withdrawal of 99 Bcf.
Total Lower 48 working gas in underground storage stood at 2,043 Bcf as of March 6, 796 Bcf (63.8%) higher than year-ago levels and 227 Bcf (12.5%) above the five-year average, according to EIA.
The 48 Bcf figure was “disappointing” compared to consensus expectations, Tudor, Pickering, Holt & Co. (TPH) analysts said Friday. That this could mark the “final significant draw of the season” is only likely to “further compound the issue,” they said.
“We expect inventories to move sideways from here…with the possibility of a build” in the next couple weeks if weather and liquefied natural gas (LNG) exports “don’t cooperate,” according to TPH. “…LNG feedstock averaged just 7.9 Bcf/d for the reporting week, the lowest weekly average since early November when Freeport Train 3 and Cameron Train 3 were being commissioned.
“Going forward, we also see potential near-term demand hits related to the coronavirus as working from home” and the suspension of major gatherings such as sporting events appears “likely to take a bite out of demand. We’re constructive longer term as supply begins to roll out, but we expect spot pricing to soften further in the near term.”
Cooler Weekend Expected
There was little noticeable softening in Friday’s spot trading, as Henry Hub rallied 12.5 cents day/day to set the pace for gains throughout most of the country.
“A weather system with rain and snow will sweep across the northern U.S. this weekend into early next week…for a modest increase in demand,” NatGasWeather said Friday. Lows with this system were expected to range from the single digits into the 30s, according to the forecaster.
The prospect of an uptick in demand helped to rally prices from the Midwest to the Northeast Friday. Dawn picked up 7.5 cents to $1.745, while Transco Zone 6 NY surged 17.0 cents to $1.675. Upstream in Appalachia, Columbia Gas gained 14.5 cents to $1.640.
Price moves were mixed in the Rockies and in Arizona/Nevada Friday, although a few hubs saw stronger prices as areas of the Western United States also were expected to see cooler temperatures over the weekend and into the upcoming work week.
In the Pacific Northwest, Northwest Sumas rallied 16.5 cents to average $2.255, while in California, Malin added 5.0 cents to $1.875.
The Central Rockies, Central Plains and the Northwest were expected to see “heavy snowfall” over the weekend, according to the National Weather Service.
“Below-normal daily max temperatures on the order of 5-15 degrees below normal will be common this weekend in California, the Midwest, the Mid-Atlantic and the Northeast,” the forecaster said Friday.
Maxar’s Weather Desk called for temperatures in Seattle to fall to around 5-10 degrees below normal for Saturday and Sunday, including lows around freezing.
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