U.S. gas: Futures end session nearly unchanged

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NEW YORK (Dow Jones)--Natural-gas futures ended nearly unchanged Monday as a mix of factors affecting the market balanced out price movements.

Natural gas for September delivery settled down 0.6 cent, or 0.2%, to $3.935 a million British thermal units on the New York Mercantile Exchange.

The benchmark contract traded as low as $3.855/MMBtu before the session opened, but pared losses by mid-morning to turn as high as $3.972 on some buying interest.

Equities and other commodities like oil declined further on concerns about Standard & Poor's credit downgrade of the U.S. and the health of the economy, but the natural-gas market wasn't strongly influenced by the sharp drops.

Amid the melee over the U.S. downgrade, natural gas is providing a "hideout" in a sense, said Cameron Horwitz, an analyst with Canaccord Genuity.

While prices are already at low levels, more hot weather should buoy gas-fired power generation and limit weekly storage injections, he said.

Recent inventory reports have shown larger-than-expected injections of the fuel despite hot weather, which contributed to the market's fall below $4 last Thursday.

There's limited downside for prices because of the immediate demand response, Horwitz said, noting that under $4 the market is seeing some incremental switching from coal to gas-fired power generation.

"You have a bit of a regulating mechanism in that sense," he said.

Demand for natural gas tends to fluctuate with hot weather in the summer as the fuel is used to generate electricity to power air conditioning.

Recent hot weather hasn't been too widespread, but high temperatures are holding steady over Texas and other south-central states. Above-normal temperatures are expected to return to the Midwest and Northeast in the 11 to 15-day forecast, MDA EarthSat Weather said.

More seasonal temperatures are expected in the northern tier of the country through parts of next week, giving some areas a break from the heat.

The market could see a small drop in demand from those seasonal temperatures, said Ed Kennedy, a senior vice president of energy with INTL Hencorp Futures in Miami, Fla.

Outside of the weather, Kennedy didn't see anything bullish enough to push futures higher.

"We appear to be adequately priced," he said.

Still, there's some concern about the level of demand for natural gas going forward.

There's an "increasing likelihood of a significant downshift in industrial demand for natural gas given the economic weakness implied by the near collapse in the stock market during the past couple of weeks," said Jim Ritterbusch, head of trading advisory firm Ritterbusch & Associates.

A monthly Energy Information Administration report released Tuesday could give guidance on this demand view and production expectations, Ritterbusch noted.



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