Electricity and Gas Energy Market Update

Natural Gas PipelineAfter reaching a recent high in late July, NYMEX gas prices fell for the first two weeks of August as weather moderated.  Prices have stabilized, but remain low overall.  One big customer question is whether there will be a fall dip in prices similar to 2009, 2011 and 2012.  Understand that electricity prices are influenced, in great part, by natural gas prices.

NYMEX Prices as of 8/22/12

Prompt (September):    $2.82 (we are down today due to bearish storage report)

12-Month Strip                 $3.31  (this is used for pricing 12 month contracts)

Cal 13                                    $3.54 (Calendar year 2013

Cal 14                                    $3.94

Cal 15                                    $4.15

Reasons for market movements

NYMEX prompt peaked on 7/31/12 at $3.27.  Calendar Strips also hit highs since February on or near that date.  Anemic storage injections and hot weather were key drivers.Note that through July 31st, this summer was hotter than last and 2012 was the hottest year on record.

    • However, August weather has been much milder and demand has dropped, leading to lower prices.
    • Prompt gas fell swiftly from $3.25 to near $2.75 by August 10th, but has been unable to sustain a move below $2.70 due to technical support and coal-to-gas switching.
    • Natural gas storage inventories remain on pace for a new record by the end of the injection season, but the likelihood of a storage glut has greatly diminished by below normal injections. Weekly injections have averaged 23 Bcf/week less than a year ago thereby reducing the surplus from 888 Bcf to 442 Bcf compared to a year ago.  At this pace, inventories will finish the season well below estimated national capacity of 4,100 Bcf.  (see storage chart for more detail and graphical illustration) .  Remember that based on national capacity of 4,100 Bcf, the surplus must decline to at least 248 Bcf since last year reached 3,852 Bcf
      • Last week’s storage report was larger than expected and prices are testing $2.70 support again.
  • Rig Counts – natural gas rig counts are down 45% versus a year ago and horizontal rig counts (mostly shale) are only up by 1%.  Production is relatively flat over the last few months – this may be due to improving shale technology, a backlog of wells that have been completed but not connected to the pipeline grid and the lag impact of placing rig versus starting production.  And rig counts are not always a reliable metric, but they are a trend indicator and lead to concerns about ongoing supply growth into 2013-14.
  • Coal-to-gas switching peak in the spring when gas prices were below $2.00.  For the first time since tracking began in the 1970’s, gas fired generation matched coal fired generation in the US supply stack.  This was due to economics – not EPA.  We expect ongoing strong switching, although not as much may be needed due to the shrinking storage surplus.  This is a factor that has allowed prices to move into the $2.75 – 3.25 range.  In the long-term (2015), EPA Mercury rules will be large driver of coal plant retirements in addition to low gas prices.
  • Hurricane season – the season is less of a concern as US supply migrates onshore due to shale gas, but there is still some risk.  So far 2012 has been quiet, but we are now in the peak of the season until mid-October.  Overall expectations for this season are not for an active season. Tropical Storm Isaac is currently in the Caribbean and is a threat to Florida and the Eastern Gulf of Mexico.
  • Where will prices go from here?
    • Short-term – there is still potential for a fall dip, but we do not expect new lows ($1.90 in April) due to shrinking storage surplus and reduced chance of a storage glut.  Breaking through $2.70 gas support is a first step and will depend on coal-to-gas switching and short-term weather.
    • Long-term – Prices for 2013 and beyond are likely to move directionally with the prompt month, but any extreme dip will have a muted impact on long-term because weather’s impact is mostly on near-term and there is limited ability to carryover storage surplus from 2012 to 2013 due to limited capacity.  Going into 2013 with a smaller storage surplus, flat or even declining gas production, and increased demand due to coal-to-gas switching all point to higher prices.  So outside of weather, the fundamentals are bullish compared to last year.  Furthermore, winter 11-12 was the warmest on record and is unlikely to be repeated.  This does not mean that prices will skyrocket as shale gas still limits upside, but it does point towards higher prices in 2013 compared to 2012 and the possibility that we’ve seen the bottom.
    • Power – gas relationships remain critical, but heat rates are up nationally over the last year and this relationship has eroded.  However, heat rates are down over the last month and this is worth noting to customers.
    • What else?
      • EPA Regulations:  Just last week the Cross States Air Rule (CSAPR) was vacated.  This is a big win for coal and will, at minimum, delay implementation for a few years.  However, market impacts were modest as gas prices did sustain declines after the announcement and some regional heat rates are down.  ERCOT and PJM are the markets most impacted – stay tuned for more information.  The bigger EPA rule is MATS (Mercury and Air Toxics Standards) and this rule is unaffected and has a much broader impact starting in 2015.  Most coal-to-gas switching in 2012 has been due to gas versus coal economics and this has not changed.  Please reach out to the Market Intelligence or Regulatory Affairs team for more information.
      • Message to Customers:
          • If you are looking for a fall dip, it is possible, but you should not expect new market lows due to changing fundamentals over the summer.  It is also difficult to time this dip (September in 2009, October in 2010, while prices fell into winter in 2011 due to mild weather).
            • So customers must ask:  Will there be a dip?  When will it happen?  And how deep?
          • For long-term, it is still not time to sell fear as prices should remain at levels low based on long-term history (great value), but it may not be a simple as waiting for the last minute and locking in a year-over-year decline.  There is clearly risk that 2013 and 2014 prices will go up from here and even if they do fall, they may not fall as low as 2012.  So be careful setting targets.
          • For customers that expect never-ending price declines, a key point is that we did see market participants react to low prices in 2012.  Producer cuts and increases in gas generation demonstrated that market participant will react to low price in a way that pushes prices higher. So outside of abnormal events such as the record-warm winter, the warm does have a bottom.
          • For index product customers, there is still great value in the index markets and customers should continue to participate.
          • And gas-power correlations remain critical, but not as strong as in the past so be careful basing strategy on gas along.  There are many regional issues that I have not covered in this email.

        Did you find this posting a bit challenging to understand?  If so, this is one more reason you will benefit from an electricity/energy broker such as Better Cost Control.

First Time since 1973- Natural Gas and Coal Each 32% of Electricity Generation in the US for April.

This is a market update for June 29, 2012.

The Aug12 natural gas contract is up $.03 to $2.75. The Aug12 crude contract is up $2.64 at $80.34.

The Aug12 contract finished down 7 cents yesterday to $2.722.  The market was down as much as 15 cents at one point following the natural gas storage report which yielded an injection of 57 Bcf which was slightly above market consensus of 53.

As we have continued to talk about coal to gas switching a lot more in recent months, as natural gas prices have dropped to a level where it is competitive with coal.  The EIA reported this week that Natural gas and coal accounted for 32% each of net electricity generation in the US for April.  This is the first time gas has matched coal since the EIA began collecting data in 1973.  In 1973 coal accounted for 45.5% of generation while gas accounted for 18.3%.  Heat will continue to grip the majority of the country pushing up short term gas and electricity prices.