ANALYSIS: US Southeast winter gas supply outlook belies Henry Hub forwards, futures selloff
After tumbling to a four-month low in recent trading, winter gas prices at the Henry Hub could be oversold judging from a recent market forecast published by S&P Global Platts Analytics.
On Nov. 16, calendar-month forwards for December, January and February lost 25 to 30 cents, or about 8%, settling at $2.70, $2.86 and $2.85/MMBtu, respectively, data published by S&P Global Platts shows.
On Nov. 17, NYMEX futures prices for the same winter months were trading at similar levels on the Intercontinental Exchange, down another 1 to 2 cents from the prior-day’s closing prices.
The precipitous decline in Henry Hub winter gas prices, which have largely traded at over $3/MMBtu since late July, comes as mild winter weather continues to blunt heating demand and as recent supply gains from Appalachia lift US production back toward 90 Bcf/d – its highest since May.
The forward market’s focus on near-term fundamentals, and accompanying weakness in the cash market, could be overdone though. According to Platts Analytics, the Southeast will see a significant reduction in supply this winter that’s forecast to leave regional storage significantly below last year’s season-ending level.
During the upcoming winter months, the Southeast is expected to see modest declines in production compared to winter 2019-20. More critical is an anticipated drop to inbound gas coming from Texas. Combined, the two supply cuts are expected to leave the region net short by over 3 Bcf/d.
Most of the production decline in the Southeast this winter will come offshore fields, which will see output contract by about 300 MMcf/d from November to April, compared to last winter. Onshore declines in production should total just 100 MMcf/d, according to the analytics forecast.
A much larger decline for the Southeast will come in the form of lower net inflows. Following a more than 2 Bcf/d drop in Permian gas output this year, Texas producers are expected to cut gas transmission to the Southeast region by an average 2.9 Bcf/d from November to March.
This winter’s supply cuts in the Southeast could be potentially exacerbated by lower demand.
A key factor in the Platts Analytics forecast is the Henry Hub gas price. At over $3/MMBtu, higher prices should incentivize significant gas-to-coal switching, resulting in a 1.1 Bcf/d drop in generator gas demand this winter compared to last. According to Platts Analytics, that decline should overwhelm an anticipated 850 MMcf/d gain in LNG feedgas demand and smaller seasonal increases in residential-commercial and industrial consumption.
Assuming supply and demand balances in the Southeast trend as forecast, the region could see its current record-high storage level significantly depleted by the end of this withdrawal season.
On Nov. 17, regional storage was estimated at nearly 579 Bcf – just 11 Bcf below the Southeast’s record-high-level inventory level of 590 Bcf, recorded in early October, Platts Analytics data shows.
With drawdowns from storage expected to outpace last winter’s level by an estimated 900 MMcf/d, inventories could end the withdrawal season below the five-year average and as much as 130 Bcf below last winter’s season-ending level.