• Higher-than-average seasonal temperatures, coupled with continued high storage levels and consistent production, put downward pressure on natural gas prices again this week. The Henry Hub price closed at $2.81 per MMBtu on January 11, down 15 cents for the week.
  • At the New York Mercantile Exchange (NYMEX), the February 2012 natural gas contract slid 32.2 cents per MMBtu for the week to close at $2.774 per MMBtu, a life-of-contract low.
  • Working natural gas in storage eased slightly last week to 3,377 Bcf as of Friday, January 6, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration's (EIA) Weekly Natural Gas Storage Report (WNGSR). The implied net withdrawal for the week was 95 Bcf, positioning storage volumes 398 Bcf above year-ago levels.
  • The natural gas rotary rig count, as reported January 6 by Baker Hughes Incorporated, increased by 2 to 811 active units. Meanwhile, oil-directed rigs decreased by 2 to 1,191 units.
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    Natural gas outlook: Higher temperatures pressure prices lower


    Movement in the Henry Hub day-ahead price reflected the widespread decline of market prices in this week's cash market by falling 5.1 percent, from $2.96 per MMBtu the previous Wednesday to $2.81 per MMBtu yesterday. As the Spot Prices tab on the left shows, the Henry Hub cash price trended downward as end-use gas markets reduced their weekly consumption.

    At the NYMEX, the February 2012 contract fell every day except Friday, from $3.096 per MMBtu last Wednesday to $2.774 per MMBtu yesterday, a drop of 32.2 cents (10.4 percent). Over the same period, the March 2012 natural gas futures contract dropped slightly more, by 32.4 cents per MMBtu, and now stands only 2.9 cents above the February contract, reflecting the effects of continued high natural gas storage levels, strong production, and a mild winter so far this season.

    All downstream trading locations responded with lower prices from reduced weather load this week. Spot prices at Transcontinental Pipeline's Zone 6 trading point for delivery into New York City, which started the week at $4.55 per MMBtu in anticipation of a passing cold snap, showed a $1.38 per MMBtu price loss over the week (Wednesday to Wednesday) to close at $3.17 per MMBtu (down 30.3 percent). Over the same period, but experiencing different timing of weather patterns, the Chicago citygate spot price registered a smaller 10 cent per MMBtu price loss (from $3.05 per MMBtu last Wednesday), ending the week at $2.95 per MMBtu (down 3.3 percent).

    In the midst of relatively warm temperatures for winter, consumption posted an expected decrease for the week. According to estimates from BENTEK Energy, LLC (Bentek), domestic natural gas consumption fell by 7.1 percent from last week. The residential/commercial sector led the decline with an 11.3 percent loss, while the industrial sector tallied a 2.5 percent drop. The power sector posted a 3.3 percent decrease, confirming the generally light weather load.

    Despite last week's continuation of small domestic production gain, overall supply was down slightly. According to Bentek estimates, the week's overall average total natural gas supply posted a 0.9 percent decrease from last week's level despite another small advance in dry gas production. Domestic weekly dry gas production averaged 64.1 Bcf per day, 0.1 percent higher than the previous week and 10.3 percent above this time last year. The slight gain in this week's dry gas production was partially offset by an 8.3 percent decrease in imports from Canada, which averaged 5.3 Bcf per day over the period. Imports from Canada stand 31.3 percent below year-ago volumes for the same week. There were also modest supply losses registered in the liquefied natural gas (LNG) arena during the week, where imports averaged 603 million cubic feet (MMcf) per day, remaining 53.5 percent below year-ago levels.

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    Working natural gas in storage fell to 3,377 Bcf as of Friday, January 6, according to EIA's WNGSR. This represents an implied net withdrawal of 95 Bcf. Stocks were 491 Bcf higher than the 5-year average level, as well as 398 Bcf higher than last year at this time. In all three regions, stocks are well above last year's and the 5-year average level at this time of the year.

    Net storage withdrawals for the West Region were particularly low (3 Bcf) compared to the 5-year average withdrawal of 20 Bcf, likely due to warmer temperatures. The Producing Region stands out at 241 Bcf (25.7 percent) above its 5-year average, while stocks in the East and West Regions were above their 5-year averages by 194 Bcf (12.4 percent) and 56 Bcf (14.4 percent), respectively.

    Temperatures during the week ending January 5 were 6.4 degrees warmer than the 30-year normal temperature and 4.6 degrees warmer than the same period last year. This continues the trend seen over the last 8 weeks of warmer-than-normal temperatures at the national level. During the week all regions were warmer than normal, particularly the West North Central region in the Midwest, which averaged 13.4 degrees warmer than normal. The Mountain and the Pacific regions averaged 9.3 and 8.0 degrees warmer than normal, respectively. Heating degree-days nationwide were down 20.7 percent from normal.

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