SEASONS COME, SEASONS GO: US NATURAL GAS © Leo Haviland February 5, 2019

“The Times They Are A-Changin’”, a Bob Dylan song


The vicious bear slump in NYMEX natural gas (nearest futures continuation) that started after 11/14/18’s 4.929 peak probably will end between mid-February and early March 2019. Assuming normal weather for the balance of winter 2019, major support around 2.40/2.50 probably will hold. Above-average temperatures for the rest of this winter increase the risk of a  moderate breach of the 2.40/2.50 floor.

Looking forward over the next several months, NYMEX natural gas (nearest futures) probably will remain in a sideways trend between 2.40/2.50 and 3.20/3.45. However, higher than anticipated United States natural gas production, reduced demand due to milder than expected summer weather, or American economic feebleness may inspire an assault on the lower end of that range. Many important lows in nearest futures continuation have occurred in late August/calendar September.


What is a “low”, “high”, or “normal” (average, reasonable) inventory is a matter of opinion. In any case, over the past two years, the United States natural gas industry probably has shifted toward a lower level of desired (appropriate, reasonable, normal, prudent, sufficient) stock holding relative to long run historical averages. Structural changes in the US natural gas marketplace have encouraged more widespread (and more aggressive) adoption of a “just-in-time” (lower inventories in days coverage terms) inventory management approach instead of a “just-in-case” (relatively higher stockpiles) method.

Why? One likely factor has been faith that gas production (in 2018, 2019, and thereafter) would remain far greater than that of calendar 2017. Many players therefore probably believe there “always (or almost always) will be enough gas around” to satisfy demand, even during peak consumption periods. Another variable likely encouraging lower inventory in days coverage terms is the substantial expansion of America’s pipeline infrastructure. Thus it has (will) become easier to move sufficient gas to many locations where it is needed. In addition, the growing share of renewables in total US electricity generation arguably to some extent reduces the amount of necessary natural gas inventories.


Assume an entrenched change in natural gas inventory management practices to the just-in-time orientation. Assume also that from the days coverage perspective (stocks relative to consumption), the “reasonable” level of industry holdings has tumbled by several days relative to historical days coverage benchmarks. Nevertheless, anticipated October 2019 (and October 2020) United States natural gas inventories from the days coverage perspective are substantially lower than the historical average. The natural gas inventory situation therefore is somewhat bullish, particularly from the perspective regarding the close of build seasons at end October 2019 and end October 2020.

Suppose US natural gas output does not surpass current expectations, economic growth remains moderate, weather remains normal, and commodity prices in general (especially in the petroleum complex) do not collapse. This natural gas inventory situation, assuming it persists, makes it probable that the marketplace eventually will attack and surpass 3.20/3.45.

Although prospects for US natural gas days coverage at end October 2019 and October 2020 at present currently are fairly bullish, end March 2020 inventories appear sufficient. It consequently may be difficult to sustain moves over 3.45/3.70.

Despite the explosive price leap to nearly 5.000 in mid-November 2018, the shattering collapse from mid-December (12/10/18 high at 4.666), signals that many natural gas marketplace participants probably remain complacent regarding the availability of supplies, even in regard to periods of expected or actual high demand. The current sideways trends and relatively modest price heights for the summer 2019 and winter 2019-2020 calendar strips likewise reflect little worry regarding prospective supply availability 

However, picture a significantly colder than usual winter (or widespread belief this will occur). A colder than normal winter 2019/20 (or winter 2020/21), assuming low end-October days coverage, boosts the risks of very low inventories at the end of winter and thus substantial (even if brief in duration) bull charges. US natural gas inventories were very low in days coverage terms at end-October 2018. Fears that available supplies (whether in days coverage or arithmetical terms) are or may become tight can prompt feverish scrambles to procure them. Recall the spike from 9/10/18’s 2.752 and 10/29/18’s 3.100 up to November 2018’s summit. In any case, the most probable time for any flight toward or above 4.00/4.10 is close to or during winter.

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Seasons Come, Seasons Go- US Natural Gas (2-5-19)