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By Barani Krishnan
Investing.com — The gas bears are back to torment the bulls, after allowing them a two-day reprieve.
Natural gas futures on the New York Mercantile Exchange’s Henry Hub plunged 7% on Friday to approach 19-month lows and threaten a take out of the key $3 support after the U.S. government reported a day ago a rare winter-season storage build for inventories of the heating fuel.
The front-month February gas contract settled at $3.419 per mmBtu, or metric million British thermal units, down 27.60 cents, or 7.5%, on the day after hitting a session bottom at $3.417 — its lowest since June 25, 2021.
February gas rose a combined 1.5% over the past two sessions before ending the week down 8%. Cumulatively, warm winter weather has erased 52% of the market’s value in just four weeks.
Friday’s leg lower on the Henry Hub came after the Energy Information Administration reported an 11-bcf, or billion cubic feet, in gas storage builds for the week ended Jan. 6.
The increase in gas inventories, which came during what is being described as the warmest start to a winter in 20 years, was at the higher-end of forecasts by some industry analysts, who expected a build of under 10 bcf last week. Some 14 analysts polled by Reuters had, meanwhile, predicted a draw of 15 bcf on the average from storage last week.
Sensing an extremely bearish storage report, some market participants had expected the last vestiges of $3 support to vanish from the front-month gas contract this week, to reintroduce the $2 trading levels not seen since May 2021.
Technical charts had, however, indicated that Henry Hub’s front-month would hold above $3 this week, though there was no indication what could happen next week.
For now, “I see the current bearish streak extending to the 100-Month Simple Moving Average of $3.29,” said Sunil Kumar Dixit, chief technical strategist at SKCharting.com.
After explosive upward price action for most of 2022 from weather extremities and a supply squeeze caused by political and other disruptions to Russian gas output in the aftermath of the Ukraine invasion, natural gas futures suddenly collapsed last month. The change has been attributed primarily to unseasonably warm winter temperatures that has left both the U.S. and European heating markets sufficiently supplied.
Exports of LNG, or liquefied natural gas, have also been tamped down since June with the shutdown of the Freeport liquefaction facility in Texas, which has idled about 2 bcf, or billion cubic feet, of gas per day. That is independent of what’s happening on the weather front.
“Sellers are back in the proverbial driver’s seat due to a couple of catalysts,” Houston-based energy trading consultancy Gelber & Associates said in a note to its clients in natural gas.
“It is becoming increasingly evident that the Freeport LNG export terminal will likely not return online in February, adding another 60 bcf to gas storage stocks,” it said.
On the weather front, Gelber said even if longer-range forecast models, such as the U.S. Global Forecast System and the European ECMWF, showed the potential for colder temperatures in late January, the actual outcome may be a “quick freeze…punctuated by unseasonable warmth.”
Weather forecasters generally say that other than a transient burst of chilly temperatures aimed at the Southeast region of the United States this coming weekend, overall mild temperatures don’t look to change until at least January 22.
That means it will be another week at least before the longer-range weather models expect a resumption of the bitterly cold Arctic winds that are typical at this time of the year.
Gelber said there were indications of a “serious wave of extensive Arctic cold around the end of the first week of February”
“Until there are better agreements among all the significant weather forecast models on the February outlook, the gas market will likely view any winter outbreaks with skepticism.”