The unprecedented cold "is leaving a big mark on the U.S. nat gas market," Bank of America-Merrill Lynch said in a research note this week, adding that the only way to alleviate tight demand "is to force…rationing through higher prices." It suggests power users could be in for yet another sticker shock just as they finished paying off winter utility bills.
Although prices set a three-week low near $4.50 last week, analysts suspect the lull is unlikely to last. Freezing temperatures have left nat gas stockpiles depleted, and they won't be fully replenished before summer, which scientists warn may be the hottest on record.
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"There's a heat wave out of Texas and Oklahoma that is really gathering momentum," said Richard Hastings, macro strategist at Global Hunter Securities. "If that takes place…and you have enough electric power consumption for nat gas, it makes it really difficult to rebuild nat gas storage."
Last week, U.S. nat gas supplies rose by 74 billion cubic feet, according to the Energy Information Administration's latest data. Supplies have been climbing steadily since April 4.
Yet inventories have only recently begun to rise after a tundra-like winter forced utilities to pull a record 3 trillion cubic feet from storage for heat and electricity generation. Nat gas prices subsequently skyrocketed above $6. Power companies are gradually using more natural gas to replace coal.