Natural Gas Prices Rise as Investors Shrug Off Supply Data
The U.S. Energy Department’s weekly inventory release showed a larger-than-expected increase in natural gas supplies that was also higher than the five-year average and the year-ago rise. However, prices rose although data showed swelling stockpiles as market participants chose to focus on a bullish weather forecast. But the positive sentiment is unlikely to last and the commodity is expected to give way to pressure from rising production.
Analysis: More-Than-Expected Rise in Storage
Stockpiles held in underground storage in the lower 48 states rose by 89 billion cubic feet (Bcf) for the week ended Jun 28, above the guidance (of 80 Bcf gain). Moreover, the increase was higher than the five-year (2014-2018) average net injection of 70 Bcf and last year’s increase of 76 Bcf for the reported week.
The latest rise in inventories puts total natural gas stocks at 2.390 trillion cubic feet (Tcf) – 249 Bcf (11.6%) above 2018 levels at this time but 152 Bcf (6%) under the five-year average.
Futures Shrug Off the Bearish EIA Report on Warmer Weather Forecasts
The natural gas futures market shrugged off larger-than-expected climb in U.S. supplies, with the commodity posting a 4.8% weekly gain and erasing some of the steep losses that have taken it to lows not seen since May 2016. Futures for August delivery rose after weather updates show hotter weather and optimistic signs for cooling demand over the next two weeks. Still, natural gas – at $2.418 per MMBtu – is far off the $3.722 per MMBtu 2019-high reached in January. Recently, the fuel hit a more than three-year low of $2.185.
Natural Gas Unlikely to See a Pop in Prices on Supply Imbalance
The demand for cleaner fuels and the commodity’s relatively lower price has catapulted natural gas’ share of domestic electricity generation to 35%, from 25% in 2011. Moreover, new pipelines to Mexico, together with large-scale liquefied gas export facilities have meant that exports out of the U.S. are set for a quantum leap. Finally, higher consumption from industrial projects will likely ensure strong natural gas demand.
However, record high production in the United States and expectations for healthy growth through 2020 means that supply will keep pace with demand. Therefore, prices are likely to trade sideways but for weather-driven movements.
Natural gas prices might experience short-lived surge based on positive weather forecasts but any powerful turnaround looks unlikely at the moment. A case in point is the spike seen last week that was mainly on account of expectations of above-average temperatures over the next few days.
Still Fancy a Gas-Weighted Company?
The bearish natural gas fundamentals and its seasonal nature is responsible for the understandable reluctance on investors’ part to dip their feet into these stocks.
Moreover, most natural gas-heavy upstream companies like Gulfport Energy Corporation GPOR, Antero Resources AR, Cabot Oil & Gas Corporation COG, SilverBow Resources, Inc. SBOW, Southwestern Energy Company SWN etc. carry a Zacks Rank #3 (Hold), which means that investors should preferably wait for a better entry point before buying shares in them. Some like Ultra Petroleum Corp. UPL are further down the pecking order, with Zacks Rank #4 (Sell).
The 2019 Zacks Consensus Estimate for this Houston, TX-based company is $2.06, representing some 8.4% earnings per share growth over 2018. Next year’s average forecast is $3.69 pointing to another 79.1% growth.
Cheniere Energy foresees the fundamentals of liquefied natural gas to be favorable in the long run, considering the secular shift to the cleaner burning fuel for power generation worldwide and in the Asia-Pacific region in particular. With domestic prices remaining constrained on the back of abundant supplies, the company sees a big opportunity in selling U.S. natural gas production at higher prices overseas.