Natural gas outlook: Energy usage responds to cold temperatures

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Residential and commercial natural gas consumption is almost exclusively used for heating, so colder weather brings increased consumption. Last year’s record warm winter led to relatively low consumption in January and February 2012, the coldest months of the year. While this winter’s heating season (November through March) began with relatively low natural gas use, particularly during the warm December 2012, consumption has increased with colder temperatures in 2013.

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Last January, residential and commercial consumption averaged 41.8 billion cubic feet per day (Bcf/d), according to BENTEK Energy LLC (Bentek) estimates. The five-year average (2008-2012) for January is 49.2 Bcf/d. This January, consumption averaged 47.0 Bcf/d, with a few instances of very cold temperatures leading to spikes in use. This month’s Short-Term Energy Outlook projects that residential and commercial consumption will remain above last year’s levels through the rest of the heating season, based on continued projected colder temperatures relative to last year’s unusually warm winter.

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Prices:

A return to cold temperatures drove prices back up in the Northeast. Prices at the Algonquin Citygate trading location, which serves Boston, and the Transcontinental Pipeline’s Zone 6 New York delivery point (Transco Zone 6 NY), which serves New York City, closed trading on Wednesday, January 30, at $7.42 per MMBtu and $3.99 per MMBtu, respectively. This represented a large decrease from their respective peaks last report week of $34.59 per MMBtu and $37.07 per MMBtu. However, the dip in prices at these two points proved to be temporary, as cold temperatures returned in the Northeast. By the close of trading on Friday, February 1, the Algonquin Citygate spot price was back above $30 per MMBtu and the Transco Zone 6 NY spot price was $13.28 (after reaching almost $14 per MMBtu at the close of trading the day prior). Although prices at these two market locations moderated somewhat by the end of the report week, they were well above their week-ago closing price, with Algonquin Citygate closing trading yesterday at $22.63 per MMBtu and Transco Zone 6 NY closing at $11.74 per MMBtu.

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Prices at most other points rose to a lesser degree. Prices elsewhere in the United States rose at similar levels as the Henry Hub spot price, which increased by 17 cents per MMBtu or 5 percent at the close of trading yesterday compared to the final price for the previous Wednesday, January 30. Exceptions were in the Pacific Northwest, where prices at the Northwest Sumas traded down yesterday by 8 cents per MMBtu or 2.2 percent compared to last Wednesday, and the Midwest, where prices at the Chicago Citygate trading location traded down by 2 cents per MMBtu or 0.6 percent yesterday compared to last Wednesday.

Residential/Commercial and power demand increased, while supply levels remained relatively flat. Largely due to high heating demand resulting from this week’s cold weather, average daily residential and commercial consumption rose by 9.8 percent or 4.4 Bcf/d compared to last week, according to estimates from Bentek. Consumption of natural gas for electric power also rose, by 7.5 percent or 1.4 Bcf/d, while industrial consumption increased by 1.6 percent or 0.3 Bcf/d. This rise in demand occurred alongside a slight decrease in supply. Production decreased by 0.2 percent below last week’s levels, and Canadian imports decreased by 1.4 percent. LNG sendout remained at historically low levels.

At the Nymex, the March 2013 and April 2013 contracts both ended the week up slightly. The March 2013 and April 2013 New York Mercantile Exchange (Nymex) contracts rose yesterday by 2.5 percent and 2.3 percent, respectively, over closing prices on Wednesday, January 30. The March 2013 contract closed yesterday at $3.418 per MMBtu, comparted to $3.335 per MMBtu last Wednesday, while the April 2013 Nymex contract closed yesterday at $3.464 per MMBtu, versus $3.385 per MMBtu last Wednesday.

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Storage

Working natural gas in storage decreased to 2,684 Bcf as of Friday, February 1, according to EIA's WNGSR. This represents an implied net withdrawal of 118 Bcf from the previous week. This week's net withdrawal was 47 Bcf less than the 5-year average net withdrawal of 165 Bcf, and 24 Bcf larger than last year's average net withdrawal of 94 Bcf. Inventories are currently 226 Bcf (7.8 percent) less than last year at this time and 351 Bcf (15.0 percent) greater than the 5-year average of 2,333 Bcf.

All three storage regions posted declines this week. Inventories in the East, West, and Producing regions decreased by 88 Bcf (the 5-year average net withdrawal is 104 Bcf), 10 Bcf (the 5-year average net withdrawal is 20 Bcf), and 20 Bcf (the 5-year average net withdrawal is 41 Bcf), respectively. In the Producing region, working natural gas inventories decreased 4 Bcf (1.6 percent) in salt cavern facilities and decreased 16 Bcf (2.1 percent) in nonsalt cavern facilities.

Temperatures during the storage report week were 5.1 degrees warmer than the 30-year normal temperature and 3.7 degrees cooler than the same period last year. Temperatures in the Lower 48 states averaged 39.0 degrees, compared to 42.7 degrees last year and the 30-year normal of 33.9 degrees. During the week, all regions with the exception of the Pacific Census division were warmer than normal. In the South, the West South Central and East South Central Census divisions were particularly warm, averaging 11.3 and 8.6 degrees warmer, respectively, than the 30-year normal. In the Midwest, the East North Central and West North Central Census divisions were relatively warm, averaging 8.0 and 7.6 degrees warmer, respectively, than the 30-year normal. The Pacific Census division in the West was 0.4 degrees cooler than the 30-year normal. Heating degree-days nationwide were 15.9 percent below normal and 17.1 percent above last year.

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