Natural Gas Tumbles; Demand ‘Falling Off a Cliff’ as Coronavirus Spreads Fear of Slowdown

February 28th, 2020

Against a backdrop of global economic anxiety over the coronavirus outbreak, the prospect of an early spring offered natural gas futures bulls no quarter in early trading Friday.

Following a steep 8.5-cent sell-off in the previous session, the April Nymex contract was down another 7.6 cents to $1.676/MMBtu shortly after 8:30 a.m. ET.

A loss of 22.3 gas-weighted heating degree days (gHDD) from the American model over the past 24 hours prompted forecaster DTN to adjust its latest forecast warmer heading into Friday’s trading.

Citing the DTN data, EBW Analytics Group analysts observed that forecast maps for the next four weeks “are now a sea of red, with projected degree days 20-30 gHDD below normal every week and demand falling off a cliff due to an early arrival of spring.

“With the withdrawal season rapidly drawing to a close, the effect of this shift is to nearly guarantee that end-of-season storage will be well above 1,900 Bcf,” the EBW analysts said.

“With economic activity likely to be far below normal levels over the next few months” for the world’s largest liquefied natural gas import markets, including Japan, China, South Korea and Europe, on top of “plummeting” near-term demand domestically, “prices are likely to continue to fall sharply over the next few weeks.”

Thursday’s Energy Information Administration (EIA) storage report only added to the bearishness. The EIA reported a smaller-than-expected 143 Bcf natural gas storage withdrawal for the week ending Feb. 21. That compares with a 167 Bcf draw for the similar week last year and a five-year average withdrawal of 122 Bcf.

Total working gas in storage as of Feb. 21 stood at 2,200 Bcf, 637 Bcf above year-ago levels and 179 Bcf above the five-year average, EIA said.

“A blast of cold weather through the U.S. last week pushed heating degree days higher, coming in 15% above the five-year average, and marking only the second above average recording this year,” analysts at Tudor, Pickering, Holt & Co. (TPH) said of this week’s EIA report. “Year-to-date, cumulative degree days are tracking 9% below historical norms, while cumulative draws from storage screen stronger at 5% below.”

Of course, the sell-off for natural gas coincided with further selling in oil and stock markets ahead of Friday’s market open as fears over the impact of the coronavirus outbreak continue to spread through the global economy.

“Oil prices are falling out of control as fears continue to spread that coronavirus is out of control,” Prices Futures Group analyst Phil Flynn said in a note to clients Friday. “…What will it take to restore calm to the market? At this point, the fear of the unknown is making that hard to judge.”

April crude oil futures were off $1.70 to $45.39/bbl at around 8:30 a.m. ET, while March RBOB gasoline was trading 1.8 cents lower at $1.3926/gal.

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