Volatile natural gas prices plummeted 18 percent, reversing nearly all of Wednesday's sharp gains, after U.S. inventories showed a slight increase in supply.
Selling was already underway even before the 10:30 a.m ET report from the Energy Information Administration showed natural gas supplies rose by 39 billion cubic feet. S&P Global Platts reported analysts expected 38 billion cubic feet.
Total gas in storage now stands at 3.247 trillion cubic feet, but is still 15 percent below the 5-year average and 14 percent below last year. Gas supply is at a 15-year low for this time of year; at the same time, cold weather has driven strong early heating demand.
Natural gas prices surged more than 18 percent Wednesday, as panicky buyers reacted to new weather reports showing a colder forecast amid concerns the U.S. has too little gas in storage. Futures were trading at about $3.98 per mmBtu Thursday, after reaching $4.83 the day earlier.
Wednesday's move higher set the stage for the big decline, as analysts said much of the buying appeared to be traders who were caught on the wrong side of the trade and forced to react to a short squeeze.
"It was a total short squeeze. It was an epic blow off top yesterday. We had record volume in the contracts, and it was clearly a squeeze or forced liquidation," said John Kilduff, partner with Again Capital.
Natural gas is still 30 percent higher in November, and more cold forecasts could send it higher again.
"There's still a bullish looking chart, but this recent parabolic move higher had to be processed and really retraced for the market to normalize," said Kilduff. He said gas prices could fall to support at $4 and then return to the $3.50 per mmBtu level, unless another cold wave is expected.
"You're going to need another round of weather for it to try to scale those heights again," said Kilduff.