Natural Gas Prices Climb off 1-Year Lows

Most U.S. spot natural gas rose Thursday for the first time in five trading days, with gas at benchmark Henry Hub in Louisiana climbing from Thursday's lowest level in nearly a year amid stronger gas futures and concerns about continued shut in Gulf of Mexico production.

But mild autumn weather that has slowed demand, weekly storage data showing winter stocks rose by more than expected last week despite the shut ins and strong gains in onshore production were expected to help ease concerns about having enough supply to meet winter heating demand.

Natural Gas
Natural Gas

The U.S. Minerals Management Service said Thursday about 39 percent of offshore Gulf gas production was still shut in from hurricanes Gustav and Ike, about flat with Wednesday's reported levels.

The cumulative total of offshore production cuts from both storms since Aug. 29 was also about 200 billion cubic feet.

But an Energy Information Administration report last week said gross gas production in July rose about 1 percent from June and more than 10 percent from the same year-ago month.

In addition, Thursday's EIA storage report showed stocks still rose 88 bcf last week, in line with Reuters survey estimates for an 86 bcf build. Traders also noted the build was well above the year-ago rise of 68 bcf and the 69 bcf five-year average build for that week.

Gas for Friday delivery at Henry Hub rose 11 cents on average to $6.69 per million British thermal units, after slipping 16 cents on Wednesday to $6.58, its lowest level since late October 2007, according to Reuters data.

Hub cash deals were heard early $6.70 area, at about an 14-cent discount to the front month November futures contract on the New York Mercantile Exchange, little changed from deals done late Wednesday at about an 18-cent discount.

While the current Hub average is still below the October monthly index of $7.47 and the year-ago price of $6.63, it is still above the $5.06 mean on the same day in 2006.

In major end-user markets, gas on the Transco pipeline at the New York city gate rose 9 cents on average to $7.03, also rising from its lowest level since late October on Thursday, while Chicago gas was 7 cents higher at $6.29.

Temperatures in both key gas consuming cities were seen above normal for the next six days, with highs expected to top out near 70 degrees Fahrenheit in New York and near 77 degrees F in Chicago, according to forecaster DTN Meteorlogix.

Houston, Los Angeles and Miami were all seen fairly close to normal for the period, with highs in the South reaching into the high-80s F, the forecaster said.

The latest National Weather Service six to 10-day outlook issued Wednesday called for above-normal temperatures for a big portion of the eastern half of the nation and a large swath of below-normal readings in the western half.

Thursday's EIA report showed that total domestic gas inventories of 3.198 trillion cubic feet were 117 bcf, or nearly 4 percent, below last year, but more than 2 percent above the five-year average.

To get inventories back to a comfortable 3.4 tcf by winter, weekly injections must average about 51 bcf for the remaining 4 weeks of the stock building season, slightly above the 50 bcf five-year average pace for that period.

Early estimates for next week's storage report range from 73 bcf to 87 bcf versus an adjusted 49 bcf for the same year-ago week.

On Nymex, front month gas futures last traded up about 6 cents at $6.805, while Nymex front month crude futures last traded down more than $2, under $87 a barrel.