U.S. natural gas futures jumped about 6% to a one-week high in volatile trade on Friday ahead of contract expiration on forecasts for higher demand in two weeks when the weather turns slightly cooler and with the slow return of output from last week’s Arctic freeze.
Traders noted prices fell by over 5% earlier in the session on forecasts for the weather to remain warmer than normal through at least the middle of February and the slow return of U.S. liquefied natural gas (LNG) export plants to full service after last week’s extreme cold.
Last week’s freeze boosted gas demand to a daily record high and cut both U.S. gas output and LNG feedgas to one-year lows.
On its second to last day as the front-month, gas futures for February delivery on the New York Mercantile Exchange rose 14.1 cents, or 5.5%, to settle at $2.712 per million British thermal units (mmBtu), their highest close since Jan. 17.
Futures for March, which will soon be the front-month, were little changed at around $2.18 per mmBtu.
For the week, the front-month gained about 8% after dropping about 24% last week.
SUPPLY AND DEMAND
Financial company LSEG said gas output in the Lower 48 states fell to an average of 103.2 billion cubic feet per day (bcfd) so far in January, down from a monthly record high of 108.0 bcfd in December.
On a daily basis, U.S. gas output was on track to jump by 14.6 bcfd from Jan. 17-26 to a preliminary two-week high of 105.1 bcfd on Friday. That, however, was not enough to make up for the 17.2 bcfd output drop from Jan. 8-16 to a 12-month low of 90.5 bcfd on Jan. 16, due primarily to freeze-offs and other cold weather events.
Meteorologists projected temperatures in the Lower 48 states would remain warmer than normal from now through at least Feb. 10. The forecasts for the week of Feb. 4, however, were slightly cooler than the outlook for the week of Jan. 28.
With the weather expected to turn warmer, LSEG forecast U.S. gas demand in the Lower 48, including exports, would drop from 144.6 bcfd this week to 124.9 5 bcfd next week before rising to 127.8 bcfd in two weeks as the weather turns cooler. The forecast for next week was lower than LSEG’s outlook on Thursday. That compares with a daily record demand of 168.4 bcfd on Jan. 16 during the arctic freeze.
Gas flows to the seven big U.S. LNG export plants fell to an average of 13.8 bcfd so far in January, down from a monthly record of 14.7 bcfd in December.
But on a daily basis, LNG feedgas was on track to rise by about 4.8 bcfd from Jan. 17-26 to a preliminary 14.0 bcfd on Friday after dropping by 5.8 bcfd from Jan. 13-16 to a one-year low of 9.2 bcfd on Jan. 16 during last week’s freeze.
U.S. energy firm Freeport LNG said it expects one of three liquefaction units at its Texas plant will be out of service for about a month after it faced a technical issue during last week’s cold.
(Reporting by Scott DiSavino; Editing by Paul Simao and Nick Zieminski)