U.S. natgas futures slip on milder weather, lower heating demand

The price decline came despite a dip in output in recent days


U.S. natural gas futures slipped on Tuesday from a six-week high in the prior session on forecasts for milder weather and lower heating demand over the next two weeks than previously expected.

The price decline came despite a dip in output in recent days and ongoing near-record liquefied natural gas (LNG) and pipeline exports.

Front-month gas futures fell 2.9 cents, or 1.1%, to $2.720 per million British thermal units at 7:45 a.m. EDT (1145 GMT). On Monday, the contract closed at its highest since March 3.

With stockpiles at normal levels and the weather expected to turn seasonally milder, traders said price spikes were unlikely in coming weeks. That helped drive futures at-the-money implied volatility down to 27.5%, its lowest since May 2019. Implied volatility, a determinant of an option's premium, rose to 115.1% in February during the Texas freeze, its second highest on record.

Implied volatility hit a record high of 117.5% in November 2018 due to big changes in winter weather forecasts that caused a rapid increase in prices and the failure and liquidation of commodity trading adviser OptionSellers.com. Volatility hit a record low of 18.6% in April 2019 on mild summer forecasts and a belief that record production at the time would meet any increase in demand and keep prices in check.

Data provider Refinitiv said gas output in the Lower 48 U.S. states averaged 91.4 billion cubic feet per day (bcfd) so far in April, down from 91.6 bcfd in March. That compares with a record monthly high of 95.4 bcfd in November 2019.

Refinitiv projected average gas demand, including exports, would fall from 97.4 bcfd this week to 89.0 bcfd next week as the weather turns seasonally milder. Those demand forecasts were lower than Refinitiv projected on Monday.

The amount of gas flowing to U.S. LNG export plants averaged 11.1 bcfd so far in April, which would top the monthly record of 10.8 bcfd in March.

Buyers around the world continue to purchase near-record amounts of U.S. gas because prices in Europe  and Asia remain high enough to cover the cost of buying and transporting the U.S. fuel across the ocean.

Traders, however, noted U.S. LNG exports cannot rise much more until new units enter service in late 2021, since the United States only has the capacity to export about 10.5 bcfd of gas as LNG. LNG plants pull in a little more gas than they export since they use some of the fuel to run the facility.

U.S. pipeline exports to Mexico averaged 6.1 bcfd so far in April, up from 5.9 bcfd in March and on track to top the monthly record of 6.0 bcfd in September 2020, according to Refinitiv data.

(Reporting by Scott DiSavino; editing by David Evans) ((scott.disavino@thomsonreuters.com; +1 332 219 1922; Reuters Messaging: scott.disavino.thomsonreuters.com@reuters.net))

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