Natural gas update – EIA sees rising prices

Commodities

Warren Buffet just made a $10bn bet on natural gas after prices hit a 25-year low. In the long term, he seems to think gas will play a key part in the energy mix. But where will natural gas prices head in the medium-term?

In its latest Short-Term Energy Outlook, the US Energy Information Administration argued that prices could rise further over the coming months.

The EIA expects US natural gas consumption will decline by 3% in 2020, largely due to lower consumption in the industrial sector because of lockdown efforts and ensuing reductions in economic activity, which will mean working natural gas in storage could hit record levels by October.

“Forecast US natural gas consumption declines by 5% in 2021 as a result of expected rising natural gas prices. The rising prices will reduce the use of natural gas in the electric power sector, which will more than offset increases in natural gas consumption in the industrial, commercial, and residential sectors,” the EIA said.

Whilst the spot price briefly hit a 25-year low before the last contract expired, average prices also very weak on an historic basis. The Henry Hub natural gas spot price averaged $1.63 per million British thermal units (MMBtu) in June, which the EIA notes was the lowest inflation-adjusted price since at least 1989. The EIA said it expects falling production to put upward pressure on natural gas prices through the end of 2021, forecasting Henry Hub spot prices to average $1.93/MMBtu in 2020 and $3.10/MMBtu in 2021.

Stocks tread ranges ahead of FOMC, pound at 3-month high

Morning Note

Some of the biggest share price gains registered this week have been among companies that have filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection – the likes of Hertz, JC Penney, Pier 1, Whiting Petroleum, as well as firms like Chesapeake Energy and California Resources which are about to file for bankruptcy. This is downright speculation, gambling by any other way of it looking at it.

Retail investors – many trading for free with Robinhood accounts – are snapping up penny stocks and driving up the shares of companies whose stock is essentially worthless. Most of these investors probably don’t realise that common stock comes precisely bottom of the pecking order in bankruptcy proceedings. Even if they don’t go bankrupt and restructure, shareholders get wiped out. It’s a sign of a frothy market – just make sure you are not the greater fool holding the stock when the music stops.

Europe opens higher, stock markets await clarity on recovery and policy support

Stocks took a breather yesterday with a decent pullback, though European bourses opened a little higher this morning ahead of the Federal Reserve statement this evening. Asian shares were mixed, with Tokyo a tad higher and Chinese shares a little weaker.

Chinese inflation figures were soft, with producer prices down 3.7%, the worst drop in 4 years, and consumer prices rising by 2.4%, down from 3.3% in April. Meanwhile data crossing this morning showed French industrial production declined 34% in April – but the market long ago chose to ignore any backward-looking data.

European stocks opened higher after yesterday’s selloff, now bouncing around ranges before there is more clarity on economic recovery and any further policy support.  On the former, there are concerns about two-consecutive days of record numbers of hospitalisations in Texas as lockdown restrictions lift, but broadly optimism about reopening is trumping doubts about second waves and a slow, lacklustre recovery.

It turns out pubs won’t reopen by Jun 22nd, but the bigger worry is how you get children back to school – that should be a priority. Meanwhile, I have grave doubts about the state of the UK employment market come the autumn as furlough schemes end and businesses have reopened to a big fall in demand. Such circumstance don’t bode well for civil order, which is already looking strained in places.

Markets await FOMC statement, Nasdaq above 10,000

On the latter, the FOMC statement is due later today (see yesterday’s note). There has been chatter about yield curve control and more dovish forward guidance, but the Fed may prefer to wait until September before it strikes. The recent recovery should give it time to think, albeit it will be keeping a close watch on longer-dated yields moving up, which may be a worry.

However, I think its focus is keeping a lid on the front end and allowing some steepening should not be a concern. I think I said a year ago that we should no longer pay any attention to the dots – they’re meaningless guesses. But there could be some optimists on the FOMC seeking to pencil in a hike in 2022. More broadly, I think the Fed will signal it accepts there will be no V-shaped recovery even if the recent data has been encouraging.

US stocks were weaker as the rally paused for breath with the S&P 500 down 0.78% at 3207. The Dow snapped a 6-day winning streak with a 1% fall. The Nasdaq was of course still higher and broke 10,000 for the first time ever. Boeing shares have been on a tear lately but tripped up with a 6% drop as it revealed it delivered just four jets in May and saw another 18 orders cancelled.  IATA says 2020 will be the worst year in the history of the aviation industry. Vroom went zoom with a 117% gain on the first day of trading to $47.90. Apple shares rose another 3% to a fresh all-time high on reports it would use its own chips in its devices, helping to drag the Nasdaq into record territory.

Dollar offered, cable hits fresh 3-month high

In FX the dollar is offered across the board with both risk proxies and the yen making gains. The pound has broken out to fresh 3-month highs with GBPUSD clearing 1.2760. EURUSD was higher around 1.1350, trying to take out the Jun 5th peak at 1.1382. The ECB’s Muller said PEPP needs to be temporary and should not be increased if at all possible. He also said low inflation expectations are a short term risk, so take what he says with a pinch of salt.

Expectations for a dovish Fed may be a factor but we are seeing this as part of an unwinding of the strong dollar pandemic trade that was built on USD liquidity squeeze. Nevertheless, the dollar index continues to make new lows and may well take 95 handle before long having broken down through the last Fib support. Key support is seen around the 94.50/60 area.

Oil steadies ahead of EIA inventories data after surprise API build

Crude oil (Aug) was steady a little above $38, about $2 off Monday’s highs, after API data yesterday showed a surprise build in US crude inventories that has reignited oversupply fears. US crude stocks climbed 8.4m barrels in the week to Jun 5th, vs expectations for a draw of 1.7m barrels. The EIA data today is forecast to show a draw of 1.8m barrels. But the forecasts have been way out for weeks, with an average consensus miss of about 5m barrels, so I wouldn’t be putting too much faith in the expectations.

Natural gas prices spiked aggressively lower overnight and though paring losses are still trading down by around 2% today after the IEA said 2020 would see the largest demand shock in the history of the market.

Could natural gas prices follow WTI and go negative?

Commodities

Natural gas prices could follow oil into negative territory, according to Wang Yusuo, the chairman of ENN Energy Holdings, one of China’s largest distributors. According to a Bloomberg report, he said a lack of storage could send prices negative for a short while.

Natural gas has traded weaker all year, at or around record lows because of oversupply and lack of demand. The dynamics are very similar to oil markets. Last month, the May WTI contract went negative as expiry approached because of a lack of capacity to store the oil.

“For natural gas, I have heard about the possibility of negative prices. I also think it could happen,” Wang was reported as saying. “That’s because natural gas has even more limited storage capacity and its production is also more rigid. So it may happen. But I don’t think it will be a dominant or long-lasting scenario.”

Read the latest natural gas news in the Marketsx online trading platform.

Chart: Nat gas prices are testing the Apr 24th low and briefly plunged below this level, which may open up path to 1.60 again.

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