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Natural gas prices tumble as demand fears ease on milder winter weather

By Angela Barnes


Updated

Illustration of natural gas price volatility
Natural gas prices soared in 2022 following Russian invasion of Ukraine – Photo: Getty

US natural gas futures tumbled further on Wednesday 4 January to around the $4.0 per million British thermal units (MMBtu) level – a price not seen since February 2022 as milder January weather forecasts eased demand concerns for the commodity.

US natural gas price chart

During the second day of trading in 2023, US natural gas futures were already down more than 9% over the two trading days, to $4.04/MMBtu.

Despite a 12-session run during which the price fell by nearly 36%, US natural gas futures were still up more than 30% in 2022.

Natural gas prices in Europe also continued to decline on Wednesday and fell over 5% to below €70 per megawatt hour (MWh) – its lowest level since mid-February 2022.

Record LNG imports from the US and good stockpiles have helped ease the bloc’s demand concerns. Milder weather also weighed on TTF prices as it assisted the continent with maintaining reserves.

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Will there be a winter weather gas price shock?

Piero Cingari, market specialist at Capital.com, recently highlighted how US natural gas prices have actually exhibited very low average returns during the winter and coldest months of the year (December, January, and February), despite the fact that household consumption for heating is highest during this period.

He analysed data over the past 30 years and further explained why this is the case.

“Actually, when heating demand drops, natural gas prices rise. The two strong quarters for US natural gas prices are from March to May and from August to October, with September being the best month in terms of average returns. So, what causes this peculiar seasonal pattern? Natural gas prices tend to rise during the refill season. Demand for natural gas increases as a result of the need to restock supplies in advance of the winter months, pushing the price of the commodity higher.

“The winter demand spike can usually be met with a high level of gas reserves, barring major and protracted frosts, which may sometimes cause some price pressures,” he said.

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However, US natural gas average monthly returns are historically high in September (12%) and October (8%), but low in December (-4.5%) and January (-3.5%).

“The gain frequency – a measure of the historical likelihood that a month will perform well – is also quite high in September and October (72% and 66%, respectively). In December (38%), January (31%), and February (31%), gain frequencies are well below the 50% threshold, indicating that there has been more negative than positive returns of natural gas prices in the winter months, and thus reinforcing the negative seasonal trend,” Cingari added.

The market specialist also noted that Europe's energy crisis, weather-related winter demand and technical issues will continue to have a huge impact on the global natural gas market.

2023 natural gas price outlook

S&P Global forecasts Henry Hub prices to average $5.47/MMBtu in 2023, peaking near $7/MMBtu across the first quarter before dipping below $5/MMBtu across the second and third quarters of the year.

The group of analysts said it would be a result of tight gas balances and economic headwinds in the US and abroad. 

Goldman Sachs, meanwhile, has forecast summer 2023 NYMEX natural gas prices to trade at $4.15/MMBtu.

“We expect 2025 to mark the end of this bearish cycle as LNG export capacity additions bring a meaningful step-up in demand,” Goldman oil and gas analysts said in a note on 14 December to clients. 

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