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By Barani Krishnan
Investing.com — Natural gas futures fell for a sixth week in a row although Friday’s flat close raised questions on whether the ferocious selloff in the heating fuel over an unseasonably warm winter was coming to an end.
The front-month March gas contract on the New York Mercantile Exchange’s Henry Hub settled at $2.849 per mmBtu, or metric million British thermal units — down 10% from a week ago but virtually unchanged from Thursday’s close.
Gas futures have lost 57% of their value over the past six weeks after an unusually warm start to the 2022/23 winter led to a collapse in demand for the heating fuel. Prior to this week’s plunge to $2 levels, gas hit 14-year highs of $10 per mmBtu in August, and even traded as high as $7 in December.
Friday’s flat close, however, raised hopes among some traders that the market may have bottomed with Thursday’s 21-month low of $2.688 for March gas.
“For now, NYMEX gas futures prices seem to have found a bottom in the $2.70s/mmBtu,” Houston-based energy markets trading consultancy Gelber & Associates said in its daily market note on gas.
The collapse in gas prices came after record high production of above 100 billion cubic feet per day on the average in October and November, and after tepid heating demand for the winter, which officially began on Dec. 21. Due to weak consumption, U.S. gas in storage stood at 2.729 tcf, or trillion cubic feet, at the close of last week, up from the year-ago level of 2.622 tcf.
Notwithstanding the latest week’s slide in gas prices, weather forecasts show a likely return to freezing conditions February onwards.
Texas-based LNG export terminal Freeport is also reported to be readying to resume operations in February. Freeport consumed 2 bcf per day of gas until its sudden closure in June left the market with some 420 bcf of idle supply. Traders are estimating that it could take till late next month for LNG shipments to again leave the terminal.
Despite this, another poor storage report for next week could send prices lower again, warned some traders.
The Energy Information Administration reported that utilities drew 91 bcf, or billion cubic feet, from the U.S. national gas storage for heating and electricity generation last week. That was higher than the forecast, as well as the prior week’s draw of 82 bcf.
Analysts said weekly gas consumption had to be between 100 and 200 bcf a week in order to meaningfully send prices higher.
Gelber & Associates acknowledged this on Friday despite sharing the notion that the low of around $2.70 was holding as support.
“Other than the lack of significantly cold winter weather, the looseness of the supply/demand imbalance continues to be led by hefty dry gas production, which is up by more than 5 bcf/d year-over-year, and stagnant LNG exports that have mitigated weaker imports and coal-to-gas switching,” the consultancy said.
“Further price deterioration is still possible and will begin to subside when producers decide to more aggressively put on the brakes with regard to additional production plans this year,” it added.