A lot of people know that Permian natural gas prices have spent many days in negative territory over the last few years, only to skyrocket over $100/MMBtu during the Deep Freeze in February. Those events were mostly viewed as transitory, driven by a chronic lack of pipeline capacity in the former case and a crazy round of arctic weather in the latter. It may come as a surprise to hear that forward basis prices for natural gas in the Permian are trading at a premium to Henry Hub for at least some months over the next year or so. How could it be that gas from a supply basin way out in West Texas, where gas is considered a byproduct, trades at a premium? The answer lies in the key infrastructure changes expected in the weeks ahead and a premium in forward basis for the Houston Ship Channel gas market. How long the Texas premiums will last depends on Permian gas production, which is starting to take off again. Today, we aim to explain the latest developments in Permian and Texas natural gas markets.
With the rise of LNG feedgas demand in southern Louisiana, physical natural gas flows at Henry Hub have been climbing. As such, volumes moving through the U.S. benchmark pricing location are increasingly affected by swings in LNG feedgas deliveries, as well as in the gas supply flows into southern Louisiana that serve that demand. Those impacts have become particularly evident in recent months as nearby LNG export capacity utilization went from a trough this summer due to cargo cancellations, to being erratic during late summer and fall as hurricanes disrupted marine traffic and facility operations, and, in more recent days, to being at full bore at most facilities. In conjunction with brimming storage and pipeline maintenance in the area, this has meant more operational constraints and volatility in flows and pricing at the hub. Today, we continue our series on the changing dynamics in and around Henry Hub.
Since August, physical natural gas flows at Henry Hub have been at all-time highs for each respective month, and, in early October, they recorded the highest single-day flows that we’ve seen since December 2009. For decades, liquidity at the U.S. natural gas benchmark pricing location in southeastern Louisiana has been dominated by financial trades, with minimal physical exchange of gas, despite the hub boasting robust physical infrastructure and ample pipeline connectivity. That’s still the case, but physical movements of gas in the area have been on the rise due to LNG exports ramping up from the Sabine Pass and Cameron LNG facilities in southwestern Louisiana and a slew of Appalachia gas supply pipelines targeting that export demand. As more physical gas is moving through the hub, operational constraints are developing at key interconnects there. That, along with the ups and downs of LNG feedgas demand, is contributing to spot price volatility at the hub and, at times, a deeper divergence between Henry spot and futures prices. Today, we begin a short blog series on the changing gas flow dynamics in and around Henry.
Lower crude oil prices whack oil-directed drilling, slashing crude production, which cuts associated gas output, tightening the gas supply-demand balance, and boosting gas prices enough to spur more gas-directed drilling — it’s a classic case of commodity market schadenfreude, where one product benefits at the expense of another. That’s the way it was supposed to work, according to various trading strategies touted a few weeks back. But here we sit, with crude oil prices still around $40/bbl and gas prices languishing at a paltry $1.66/MMBtu. Was there something wrong with the schadenfreude thesis, or do we have to look deeper to understand how prices will behave in this convoluted COVID era? In today’s blog, we’ll explore this question and what it may mean for natural gas prices in the coming months.
Brent is by far the most important crude oil benchmark in the world, with well over 70% of all global crudes tied either directly or indirectly to the North Sea crude’s price. But the original Brent crude oil production is almost played out, with all of the offshore Brent producing platforms soon to be decommissioned. This might seem to be a big problem, but in the world of crude oil trading, it is a total non-issue, because Brent is no longer simply a grade of crude oil. It is a multi-layered matrix of trading instruments, pricing benchmarks, and standard contracts linked together by price differentials traded across a number of mechanisms and platforms that form the foundation of a robust, vibrant, and extremely important marketplace. Today, we delve further into the mechanics of the Brent complex, the key components that make it work, and the transactional glue that binds them together.
Do not try and refine the Brent; that's impossible. Instead, only try to realize the truth...there is no Brent. Then you will see it is not the Brent that gets refined; it is only yourself. For those who are not fans of The Matrix, that sentence may seem a little cryptic, but it makes a point that is little understood outside the rarified world of crude oil trading. The production of North Sea Brent crude oil is down to less than a couple of hundred barrels per day. Soon it will be gone altogether. But 70% of all crude oil in the world is tied either directly or indirectly to the price of Brent. How is that possible? Well, it’s because Brent is no longer simply a grade of crude oil. Over the past two decades, it has evolved into an intricate, multi-layered matrix of trading instruments, pricing benchmarks and standard contracts that is a world unto itself. A world with a huge impact across almost everything in today’s energy markets. Unfortunately, no one can be told what Brent is. You have to see it for yourself. So that’s where we’ll go in this blog series. Warning: To read on is like taking the red pill.
On April 20, that fateful day in crude oil markets when the CME May contract for WTI at Cushing collapsed to negative $37.63/bbl, the number of contracts involved in the chaos was relatively small. So you might think that most producers sat on the sidelines, watching Wall Street paper traders writhe in stunning financial pain. But not so. Almost all producers saw their crude prices that day crashing in exactly the same magnitude. That’s because the daily price of the CME WTI contract is part of the formula pricing used in a very large portion of crude oil contracts in U.S. markets, both directly and indirectly. There are two formula mechanisms that are commonly used in crude oil sale/purchase contracts that are responsible for that linkage: the CMA and WTI P-Plus. These arcane pricing mechanisms are complicated, but in order to understand U.S. crude markets, it is critically important to appreciate how they work. Today, we continue our deep dive into crude oil contract pricing mechanisms.
On Monday, front-month WTI at Cushing cratered to a negative $37.63/bbl. On Tuesday, the same futures price rose by nearly $48 to close at about $10/bbl — a positive $10, that is. As for WTI to be delivered in June, it lost well over a third of its value on Tuesday, ending up at less than $12/bbl, but over the past two days it has roared back to over $16/bbl. No doubt the WTI futures market will see more wild times in the days and weeks ahead as traders look to avoid the traps that ensnared the market as the May contract approached expiry. If there’s a lesson to be learned from the past week, it’s that it really helps to understand the ins and outs of the futures market — especially when it is so volatile. Perhaps the most important thing to wrap your head around is that while the futures market mostly involves financial players who will never take physical delivery of oil, the two markets — financial and physical — are fundamentally linked. Prompt-month futures converge on spot prices over time, while physical contracts are settled in part based on NYMEX futures, so producers will feel the sting of Monday’s negative prices when physical April deliveries are invoiced. Today, we begin a two-part blog series examining U.S. spot crude pricing mechanisms.
While the crude oil market meltdown has taken center stage in recent weeks, and for good reason, the natural gas market is bracing for its own fallout. The CME/NYMEX Henry Hub April futures price, which was already at a multi-year low, buckled last week, falling to as low as $1.602/MMBtu on March 23, and expired Friday at $1.634/MMBtu, the lowest April expiration settle since 1995. On its first day in prompt position, the May futures contract yesterday eked out a late-day, 1.9-cent gain that brought it back up near $1.70/MMBtu as traders continued weighing competing market factors. Gas futures earlier in March were initially buoyed by the assumption that the low oil-price environment would slow associated gas production — and it will, eventually. But that initial bullish sentiment was quickly usurped by the more immediate effects of demand losses resulting from the economic slowdown caused by COVID-19, as well as from mild weather. Today, we look at how these developments are shaping gas supply-demand fundamentals heading into the gas storage injection season.
After holding above $2/MMBtu in the first half of January, the CME/NYMEX February natural gas futures contract caved in this week, closing Tuesday and Wednesday at $1.895/MMBtu and $1.905/MMBtu, respectively. The last time we saw prices this low was in March 2016. But to see such levels trading in January, typically one of the coldest and highest-demand months of the year, you’d have to go back more than two decades — to 1999. Today, we explain the fundamentals behind the price collapse earlier this week and its implications for the 2020 gas market.
Every week, traders far and wide watch inventories at the storage hub of Cushing, OK, for insight into the U.S. crude oil market. Cushing has long been the epicenter for crude trading in the U.S., and while that role has shifted as the Gulf Coast gains more prominence, inventories at the Oklahoma hub are still a valuable indicator for traders looking for supply and demand trends. Recently, we’ve seen Cushing stocks drop significantly, declining for 11 straight weeks since the beginning of July to their lowest levels since last Thanksgiving. Today, we review the recent drop at Cushing, and discuss how a few changes in supply and demand fundamentals, plus strong pricing motives, helped drag down stockpiles this summer.
The U.S. natural gas market’s supply-demand balance in 2018 has been razor thin, with demand ramping up to match strong production gains. The result has been a large and stubborn storage deficit compared to prior years and price volatility, the likes of which the market hasn’t seen in a decade or more. How will the current storage level affect the winter gas market, and what are the prospects for storage to catch up before the winter is up? Today’s blog considers potential scenarios for the season-ending gas inventory balance.
Volatility is back big time in the U.S. natural gas market. The CME/NYMEX Henry Hub prompt natural gas futures contract in mid-November raced up more than $1.00 (28%) in the span of two days to a settlement of about $4.84/MMBtu on November 14, the highest price since February 2014, only to whipsaw back down 80 cents the next day. And, since then it hasn’t been unusual to see daily swings of 20-45 cents in either direction. As of yesterday, the now-prompt January 2019 contract was at about $4.34/MMBtu, down 27 cents on the day. The gas market hasn’t seen quite this level of volatility in a decade or more. Why now and what are the fundamentals behind it? With the coldest, highest-demand months still ahead, today’s blog provides an update of the gas supply-demand balance driving the recent price volatility.
In January 2016 the ICE futures Exchange changed the expiration calendar for its flagship Brent crude contract. The March 2016 contract expired on January 29, 2016 under new calendar rules that stipulate expiration one month and one day prior to delivery. This was done belatedly to reflect a change in the assessment of the physical Brent market that was implemented back in January 2012. On paper the change is just an overdue action by ICE to properly align the timing calendar for their popular futures contract with the underlying physical market. But in practice - as we suggest in today’s blog, the change has significant impacts on the calculation and analysis of the commonly utilized spread between ICE Brent (the international benchmark crude) and the U.S. equivalent West Texas Intermediate (WTI) crude futures contract traded on the CME/NYMEX.
Cold weather, abundant supplies of natural gas and lower-than-normal winter gas prices spurred record power burns in January and February, and the power burn for the rest of 2015 is likely to be record-breaking too. It almost has to be; all the gas expected to be produced this year needs to go somewhere, and there’s only so much that can be stored. That suggests continued softness in natural gas prices—hardly good news for gas producers.