The lack of sustained cold temperatures across the consuming regions has curbed heating demand from residential and commercial consumers. El Niño has had a major influence this winter, so the bouts of below normal temperatures that have swept the eastern half of the country have been short lived. As we approach the spring, natural gas and power fundamentals continue to be bearish because of the following factors:
During the fall, meteorologists sharpen their assumption to build their probability weighted winter weather forecast scenarios. From an energy perspective, this is also a critical time of the year. Since it is typically a period of low energy demand, there tend to be seasonal dips that provide good buying opportunities in natural and electricity. This year though, natural gas prices have been seesawing since mid-July 2014 due to the following reasons:
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Natural gas inventories have recovered significantly after reaching an 11-year record low of 822Bcf in late March-2014. During the last nine weeks, natural gas injections into storage have outperformed historical levels, and eight of them exceeded 100Bcf/week. Moreover, the last nine injections have exceeded the five-year average gains by 24Bcf on average. The drivers behind these above normal injections are the following:
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Midwest and Northeast residents have not experienced an arctic blast of this magnitude in more than a decade. The system has moved eastward from Illinois through New England. The all-time record low in Chicago of -11˚F was recorded in 1994 and temperatures on January 6 are expected to be -6˚F, very close to such record. Not only is the storm dumping considerable amounts of snow (5” - 12”), but it is also bringing frigid, below normal temperatures with the coldest air so far this season. Temperatures are expected to be between 20˚F - 40˚F below average in large parts of the continental U.S. through next week. Moreover, sustained 15-50MPh winds are expected, so blizzard warnings have been issued in Cape Code and Long Island. An additional storm behind Hercules will keep temperatures well below normal through early next week.
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Besides an uneventful 2013 hurricane season, which “technically” ends on November 30, the natural gas injection season is also coming to an end. According to the Energy Information Administration (EIA) storage injection report released on November 7, 2013, natural gas inventories are 1.5% above the five-year average. The latest near-term weather forecasts suggest that the gap will increase during the next two or three weeks. In other words, according to the EIA, there should be sufficient natural gas in storage to meet the projected natural gas heating demand for the upcoming winter.