By Barani Krishnan
biedexmarkets.com — In what must be a relief to the bulls in natural gas, the heating fuel’s prices did not go to the low $1 levels feared after a break of the $2 support held by its front-month contract.
But with only modest cold forecast over the next three weeks through the end of winter, the challenge may not be over yet for longs in the game, analysts say.
The April gas contract on the New York Mercantile Exchange’s Henry Hub settled Thursday at $2.432 per mmBtu, or metric million British thermal units, up 13.4 cents, 5.8%.
March, the prevailing front-month contract on the Henry Hub until its expiry on Friday, settled at $2.314 after falling to as low as $1.967 in the previous session.
“The bulls are alright for now as the $2 support seems to be holding, though for how long no one knows, given that there’s not much cold left but there’s of gas left in the tank,” said John Kilduff, partner at New York energy hedge fund Again Capital.
The higher close came after the Energy Information Administration reported that U.S. utilities pulled 71 bcf, or billion cubic feet, from U.S. during the week ended Feb. 17 for power generation and heating purposes, versus an expected draw of 67 bcf.
The latest draw, however, paled when compared to the 100-bcf consumption from the prior week.
An unusually warm winter has led to considerably less heating demand in the United States this year, leaving more gas in storage than initially thought.
Responding to the warmth and lackluster storage draws, gas prices plunged from a 14-year high of $10 per mmBtu in August, reaching $7 in December and low-$2 levels this week.
For the week ended Feb. 17, U.S. gas inventories stood at a total 2.195 tcf, or trillion cubic feet, up 22% from the year-ago level of 1.8 tcf.
While the combined heating degree days, or HDDs, for January and February are about 235, warm forecasts are persisting in much of the south and southeast United States. HDDs, which are used to estimate demand to heat homes and businesses, measure the number of degrees a day’s average temperature is below 65 Fahrenheit (18 Celsius).
“Cumulative storage withdrawals for this year so far have been well below historical withdrawals to kick off the year,” Houston-based energy markets research service Gelber & Associates said, noting that total storage withdrawals during January were 300+ bcf lower than the five-year average. “February is on a similar track. It is looking increasingly more likely at this point for end-of-season inventories to land near 2 tcf.”