09 November 2009

Outlook for US Natural Gas Supplies and Demand

For now natural gas supplies in the US are above average, and the Energy Information Administration is forecasting a slightly warmer winter than last year in the US Midwest, and slightly colder in the West. The Midwest is the primary consuming region for natural gas and propane, with heating oil in the northeast.

There is some speculation this week that Hurricane Ida may enter the Gulf of Mexico, the first to do so for this remarkably light storm season, and speculators have been given some cheer in the oil and nat gas markets because of this.

Oil may be justified, but barring a selectively devastating storm, natural gas looks to be well supplied. This is the time of year in which we will typically look to place bull positions in the natural gas markets. So far that does not seem to be justified, but perhaps later, just on seasonal variance.

The energy bulls should hope for an abnormally cold winter in the US midwest. Their government does not think that they will get it.

"EIA projects average household expenditures for space-heating fuels to be $960 this winter (October 1 to March 31), a decrease of $84, or 8 percent, from last winter. This forecast principally reflects lower fuel prices, although expected slightly milder weather than last winter will also contribute to lower fuel use in many areas. The largest expenditure decreases are in households using natural gas and propane, projected at 12 and 14 percent, respectively. Projected electricity and heating oil expenditures decline by 2 percent (see EIA Short Term and Winter Fuels Outlook slideshow).

According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s (NOAA) most recent projection of heating degree-days, the Lower-48 States are forecast to be 1 percent warmer this winter compared with last winter and 1 percent milder than the 30-year average (1971-2000). However, heating degree-day projections vary widely between regions. For example, the Midwest, a major market for propane and natural gas, is projected to be about 4 percent warmer than last winter, while the West is projected to be about 4 percent colder.

EIA expects the price of West Texas Intermediate (WTI) crude oil to average about $70 per barrel this winter (October-March), a $19 increase over last winter. The forecast for average WTI prices rises gradually to about $75 per barrel by December 2010 as U.S. and world economic conditions improve. EIA’s forecast assumes U.S. GDP grows by 1.8 percent in 2010 and world oil-consumption-weighted GDP grows by 2.6 percent.

Energy prices remain volatile, reflecting uncertainty, or risk, in the market. To measure this uncertainty, EIA is tracking futures prices and the market’s assessment of the range in which those futures prices might trade (see STEO Supplement: Energy Price Volatility and Forecast Uncertainty). The Outlook will now report confidence intervals around the New York Mercantile Exchange (NYMEX) crude oil and natural gas futures prices using a measure of risk derived from the NYMEX options markets known as “implied volatility.”

Natural gas inventories are expected to set a new record high at the end of this year’s injection season (October 31), reaching more than 3.8 trillion cubic feet (Tcf). The projected Henry Hub annual average spot price increases from $3.85 per thousand cubic feet (Mcf) in 2009 to $5.02 in 2010."

Source: US Energy Information Administration

This chart shows the divergence between the Natural Gas ETF and the Crude Oil ETF in the US. The reason for this is founded in the fundamentals.

This is merely a linear version of the first chart shown above, the annual build and depletion of natural gas inventories over time. This tends to illustrate the big swings that are possible, and over a longer timeframe.