US NATURAL GAS IN WINTER 2012-13: DRAWING CONCLUSIONS © Leo Haviland, December 17, 2012

The current bear trend in US natural gas (NYMEX nearest futures continuation basis) that began in late November 2012 at 393 will continue. Assuming normal cold winter weather, the price probably will slump to around the 300 to 285 range. When will the price quit sledding downhill? Though it may only be an initial significant bottom, look for an important low in calendar January or February 2013, probably around futures expiration.

End October 2012 inventories were around 3923bcf according to the EIA barometer (Short-Term Energy Outlook, December 2012; “STEO”). Therefore end October’s 56.3 days of coverage rest about 2.6 days above the 53.7 day long run (1990-2011) average. Though not a big overload relative to that long run average, it is sufficient to place some burden on prices.

Moreover, look at the likely increasing relative oversupply in days coverage terms versus the 1990-2011 average for the given calendar month as time passes from end October 2012 to end March 2013. At end March 2013, forecast inventories of 1873bcf (December STEO, Table 5a) represent about 26.9 days coverage (1873bcf divided by 69.70bcf/d). This jumps about 4.7 days over the 22.2 day long run average for that month, more than October’s 2.6 days.

Suppose end March 2013 inventories are 1800bcf. The excess relative to the long run average is 3.6 days (25.8 less 22.2). This still hovers above the 2.6 day end October 2012 difference.

Despite the ongoing near term downtrend, and absent another very mild winter akin to 2011-12’s, a NYMEX natural gas price collapse close to the 190 abyss of April 2012 (or even the 1/23/12 and 6/14/12 depths near 220) is unlikely.

Based on 2012’s substantial switching from coal to natural gas, particularly in the electric power territory, natural gas demand probably will mount if prices sustain levels beneath (roughly) 275. In addition, another factor probably will mitigate price declines. Concentrate on days coverage holdings in recent years.

The desired level of natural gas inventory holding in recent years arguably has climbed relative to that long run average. Consequently the oversupply of October 2012 through March 2013 probably is less than many observers believe.

Natural-Gas-Chart-(NYMEX-nearest-futures)-(12-17-12)

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US Natural Gas in Winter 2012-13- Drawing Conclusions (12-17-12)
Natural Gas Chart (NYMEX nearest futures) (12-17-12)