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What blizzard? Natural gas futures shrug off weather

Forecasts didn’t change much over weekend

Sergei Butorin/Shutterstock

Natural gas traders aren’t freaking out over a few flakes

Blizzard, you say? Yawn.

Natural gas futures didn’t find any weather-inspired love Monday even as a potentially record-busting snow storm bore down on the Northeast. February natural gas futures NGG15, +3.05% fell 10.5 cents, or 3.5%, to close at $2.881 per million British thermal units, for the fifth losing session out of the last seven. 

What happened? Well, these are futures markets, with the key word being “futures.” Forecasts for cold weather in the Northeast were in place at the end of last week (pushing natural gas up by more than 5% in Friday’s session) and didn’t change much over the weekend.

Still, it’s not unheard of for local weather to have an impact on commodity markets. Anyone who has followed corn or soybean futures can attest to the occasional downside psychological impact of a summer shower on Chicago’s LaSalle Street, home of the Chicago Board of Trade.

But snowflakes over Manhattan didn’t enter into the psych of traders during Monday’s session.

It comes down to traders balancing near-record natural-gas production and a burgeoning storage outlook against forecasts for below-normal temperatures and elevated seasonal demands, analysts say.

The tug-of-war between production and storage on one side and weather forecasts on the other has left oil pivoting around the $3 level for the past month or so, notes Bob Shiring, analyst at Tradition Energy.

It was only, well, natural for natural gas futures to jump nearly 5% on Friday, with uncertainty over the weather outlook spurring some pre-weekend short covering.

“Remember, we are right in the middle of the statistically coldest time of the year (last two weeks of January and first two weeks of February) and traders don’t want [to be] short over the weekend only to come in Monday and see a ‘bunch of dark blue’ on the weather forecast map, especially when natty is trading in the $2.80s,” Shiring wrote.

With the forecast little changed when traders walked in Monday, some of the “weak shorts” that bailed out of the market on Friday appeared keen to jump back in, he said. All well and good, but it’s also worth noting that the East “will indeed see about two weeks of below-normal temperatures, which will elevate demand for natural gas, resulting in above-normal weekly EIA (Energy Information Administration) storage-withdrawal numbers,” he said.

William Watts