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Why Did U.S. Natural Gas Prices Move Up 16.6% Last Week?

Published 20/05/2024, 20:02
© Reuters.  Why Did U.S. Natural Gas Prices Move Up 16.6% Last Week?
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Benzinga - by Zacks, Benzinga Contributor.

The U.S. Energy Department's weekly inventory release showed that natural gas supplies increased less than expected. The positive inventory numbers, together with signs of production pullback and upcoming summer demand, buoyed natural gas futures, which settled with a healthy gain week over week.

Despite this spike, which saw natural gas hit its highest since January, the space remains highly susceptible to unpredictable weather patterns, impacting prices and market stability.

At this time, we advise investors to focus on stocks like Coterra Energy (NYSE: CTRA) and Cheniere Energy (NYSE: LNG).

EIA Reports a Build Smaller Than Market Expectations

Stockpiles held in underground storage in the lower 48 states rose 70 billion cubic feet (Bcf) for the week ended May 10, below the guidance of a 76 Bcf addition, per a survey conducted by S&P Global Commodity Insights. The increase compared with the five-year (2019-2023) average net injection of 90 Bcf and last year's growth of 93 Bcf for the reported week.

The latest increase puts total natural gas stocks at 2,633 Bcf, which is 421 Bcf (19%) above the 2023 level and 620 Bcf (30.8%) higher than the five-year average.

The total supply of natural gas averaged 104.5 Bcf per day, up 0.2 Bcf per day on a weekly basis due to higher dry production, partly offset by lower shipments from Canada.

Meanwhile, daily consumption fell to 94.5 Bcf from 95.5 Bcf in the previous week, mainly reflecting a drop in natural gas consumed for power generation.

Natural Gas Prices Finish Sharply Higher Natural gas prices trended northward last week following the lower-than-expected inventory build. Futures for June delivery ended Friday at $2.49 on the New York Mercantile Exchange, up some 16.6% from the previous week's closing. As a matter of fact, the commodity's resurgence over the past few weeks wiped out all of its losses since the start of this year.

Investors should know that natural gas realization has been under pressure from strong production, elevated stockpiles and tepid weather-related demand. It's worth mentioning that the current inventory levels are well above the year-ago figure and the five-year average. The bearish sentiment surrounding the commodity even prompted shale producers Chesapeake Energy (NASDAQ: CHK) and EQT Corporation (NYSE: EQT) to hit the brakes on new drilling.

Chesapeake announced a reduction in its drilling rigs so as to lower volume, with the Appalachian Basin-focused EQT following on. CHK has decided to curb the second quarter's gas production expectations by 400 million cubic feet per day (MMcf/d), doubling the previous curtailment announced in March. Separately, EQT — the largest domestic producer of natural gas — said that it will lower its daily output by 1 Bcf through May to combat the supply glut in the U.S. market. According to EQT, the revised plan will likely reduce full-year sales volume to 2,100-2,200 billion cubic feet equivalent (Bcfe) from 2,200-2,300 Bcfe earlier. It appears that these production cut announcements have been partly responsible in driving natural gas prices higher and galvanizing the market.

As is the norm with natural gas, changes in temperature and weather can lead to price swings. With low heating demand this winter, usage of the commodity to generate electricity took a hit. However, predictions of warmer-than-normal weather over most of the United States should boost demand.

Moreover, there are signs of curtailment in U.S. production. According to energy services provider Baker Hughes, the U.S. natural gas rig count — a pointer to where production is headed — is down around 27% from last year. Industry observers believe this could set the stage for a pullback in near-term drilling and supplies.

Meanwhile, a stable demand catalyst in the form of continued strong LNG feedgas deliveries, is supporting natural gas. As a matter of fact, LNG shipments for export from the United States have been elevated of late, due to environmental reasons and Europe's endeavor to move away from its dependence on Russian natural gas supplies due to the war in Ukraine. At the same time, the increase in gas flows due to the full restart of the Freeport LNG export plant in Texas has translated into more of the commodity being loaded onto ships. A heatwave blanketing Southeast Asia has also led to a jump in power demand for air conditioning, increasing exports of the super-chilled fuel.

Final Thoughts The upshot of all these factors — the natural gas market — despite improving, remains an oversupplied one. As mentioned above, it endured a torrid year in 2023, briefly breaking below the $2 threshold for the first time since 2020. The situation was not much different in the early parts of 2024, with the fuel reaching a multi-year low near $1.48 in late March and struggling to sustain a rally over the psychological mark of $2. However, natural gas has staged quite the turnaround in a matter of weeks, and looks to improve even further given the favorable temperature outlook.

Nevertheless, based on several factors, the space is currently quite unpredictable and spooked by sudden changes in weather and production patterns. As such, investors are advised to still exercise caution and preferably hold on to fundamentally strong stocks like Coterra Energy and Cheniere Energy.

Coterra Energy: It is an independent upstream operator primarily engaged in the exploration, development and production of natural gas. Headquartered in Houston, TX, the firm owns some 183,000 net acres in the gas-producing Marcellus Shale of the Appalachian Basin. This Zacks Rank #3 (Hold) company churned out an average of 2,262.7 million cubic feet on a daily basis from these assets in 2023.

Coterra beat the Zacks Consensus Estimate for earnings in three of the trailing four quarters and missed in the other, the average being 9.8%. Valued at around $21 billion, CTRA has risen 8.9% in a year.

Cheniere Energy: Being the first company to receive regulatory approval to export LNG from its 2.6 billion cubic feet per day Sabine Pass terminal, Cheniere Energy enjoys a distinct competitive advantage.

Cheniere Energy beat the Zacks Consensus Estimate for earnings in two of the last four quarters and missed in the other two. This #3 Ranked natural gas exporter has a trailing four-quarter earnings surprise of roughly 58.9%, on average. LNG shares have moved up 11.3% in a year.

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Read the original article on Benzinga

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