The U.S. Energy Department's weekly inventory release showed a smaller-than-expected increase in natural gas supplies. However, the injection was higher than the five-year average.
Analysis Less-than-Expected Rise in Storage
Stockpiles held in underground storage in the lower 48 states rose by 25 billion cubic feet (Bcf) for the week ended Apr 5, below the guidance (of 33 Bcf gain) as per the analysts surveyed by S&P Global Platts. However, the increase was higher than the five-year (2014-2018) average net injection of 5 Bcf, while the reported week saw a drop of 20 Bcf last year.
Despite past week’s supply addition, at 1.155 trillion cubic feet (Tcf), natural gas inventories are 485 Bcf (29.6%) under the five-year average and 183 Bcf (13.7%) below the year-ago figure.
Fundamentally speaking, total supply of natural gas averaged around 93.9 Bcf per day, down 0.9% on a weekly basis as dry production fell. Meanwhile, daily consumption fell 9.3% to 76.5 Bcf primarily due to weaker residential/commercial demand.
Natural Gas Futures Struggle to Break Above $3
While natural gas futures have edged up a bit from the recent low of $2.543 per MMBtu in early February and currently trade around $2.7 per MMBtu, it’s still 44% below the four-year high of $4.929 per MMBtu reached in mid-November. The early onset of winter, together with the lowest level of stocks in 15 years, demand from power plants and growing LNG shipments lifted the commodity to almost $5 per MMBtu.
But the euphoria didn’t last long, as mild weather in December and early January led to smaller withdrawals that markedly reduced the storage deficit and sent prices lower.
What Is the Future of Natural Gas Prices?
The fundamentals of natural gas consumption continue to be favorable. 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 explosive growth through 2020 means that supply will keep pace with demand. Therefore, prices are likely to trade sideways but for weather-driven movements. Also, with the traditional withdrawal season (when supplies fall on heating demand due to cold weather) having ended in March, consumption is likely to decline in the near term.
Want to Own a Natural Gas Stock Now?
The uncertain natural gas fundamentals (considering 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 Corp. (GPOR - Free Report) , Range Resources Corp. (RRC - Free Report) , Chesapeake Energy Corp. (CHK - Free Report) , Southwestern Energy Company (SWN - Free Report) 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 SilverBow Resources, Inc. (SBOW - Free Report) are further down the pecking order, with Zacks Rank #5 (Strong Sell).
If you are looking for near-term natural gas play, Antero Resources (AR - Free Report) might be an excellent selection. The companies have a Zacks Rank #1 (Strong Buy).
You can see the complete list of today’s Zacks #1 Rank (Strong Buy) stocks here.
This Denver, CO-headquartered company’s expected EPS growth rate for three to five years currently stands at 20%, comparing favorably with the industry's growth rate of 19.1%.
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