GAS PRICES: ABOVE $2.9
PLATTS - The NYMEX April natural gas futures contract settled Friday at $2.827/MMBtu, up 2.3 cents, continuing a steady rise since February 27 despite an abnormal February injection to gas storage stocks and demand hovering 7 Bcf/d below the five-year average.
Current total US demand averaging 86 Bcf/d since the beginning of 2017, around 7 Bcf/d below the five-year average. After beginning winter well above the average in December, the upward trend reversed, accelerating in February to ultimately expand the gap with the five-year average to 7.25 Bcf/d.
The NYMEX contract mirrored these movements, dropping around $1.11/MMBtu from a high of $3.93/MMBtu December 28 to current levels.
As the specter of above-average temperatures continues to loom over the major winter-demand markets of the Northeast and Upper Midwest until the middle of March, the US gas market faces the prospect of storage inventories reaching the end of the winter season closer to year-ago levels than the five-year average, placing a ceiling on futures contract movements.
According to Tudor, Pickering, Holt & Co. analysts, the "market will need to stay undersupplied and [have] normal weather for [about] 15 weeks to work off excess inventory" to avoid a possible supply glut.
Current US production has fallen nearly 3 Bcf/d year on year to 70.6 Bcf/d, tightening gas supplies ahead of the summer season, possibly prompting the July-through-October strip to remain above $3/MMBtu, averaging $3.125/MMBtu Friday, nearly 9 cents above the prior 10-day trading average. In addition, downside risk to rising production comes as analysts at RigData, a unit of S&P Global Platts note a dwindling "incentive to target rigs toward natural gas plays," driven by the stark weakening of the prompt-month contract.
The NYMEX settlement is considered preliminary and subject to change until a final settlement price is posted at 7 pm EST (0000 GMT).
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