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Natural Gas Supplies Higher Than Expected: Could Bury Coal Deeper

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Natural gas inventory

Every Thursday, the EIA (U.S. Energy Information Administration) publishes a natural gas inventory and withdrawal report for the previous week. The latest report is for the week ended July 10.

Throughout the year, natural gas is stored underground to save the fuel for peak demand during the winter. For the week ended July 10, inventory came in at 2,767 bcf (billion cubic feet) compared to 2,668 bcf a week earlier. The inventory figure was higher than 2,114 bcf the year before and the five-year average of 2,694 bcf.

The change implies an addition of 99 bcf to the underground inventory. The addition came in higher than Wall Street analysts’ expectation of 95 bcf.

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Why is this report important?

Commodity prices are a function of supply and demand. If demand rises while supply remains constant, prices rise because more customers are chasing each unit of a commodity. In contrast, if supply rises for a given level of demand, prices fall because the commodity is available in abundance.

Supply-demand trends are reflected in inventory levels. So natural gas inventory data are useful to get a sense of natural gas prices.

Impact on coal

Natural gas inventory has risen over the past few weeks, since the injection season has started. If the inventory is higher than expected, it indicates a higher-than-expected supply. This pressures natural gas prices. A fall in natural gas prices is negative for thermal coal producers, as utilities (XLU) burn more natural gas instead of coal when natural gas prices fall.

The fall in natural gas prices over the last few months has hurt coal producers (KOL), especially those with operations in the East and Midwest. These include Alliance Resource Partners (ARLP), Natural Resources Partners (NRP), and Peabody Energy (BTU).

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