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US Natural Gas Inventories Up More than Expected: Price Reaction

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US natural gas stocks

On Thursday, August 27, the EIA (U.S. Energy Information Administration) published its “Natural Gas Weekly Update” for the week ended August 21. The report showed that US natural gas stocks (or inventories) in storage increased by 69 Bcf (billion cubic feet), causing inventories to rise to 3,099 Bcf that week. Analysts had been expecting a smaller increase of 61 Bcf.

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What this means for investors

When inventories rise more than the market expects, it’s usually bearish for natural gas prices (UNG). It either means that demand was less than expected or that supply was more than expected. Natural gas prices settled lower on the bearish inventory data.

Lower natural gas prices mean lower revenues for natural gas producers such as Chesapeake Energy (CHK), Southwestern Energy (SWN), QEP Resources (QEP), and Cabot Oil & Gas (COG). These companies earn less money when natural gas prices fall and more money when prices rise. All of these companies combined make up ~2% of the Vanguard Energy ETF (VDE).

Lower natural gas prices may also negatively affect MLPs such as ONEOK Partners (OKS). Lower prices may dissuade producers from producing more natural gas, which would mean lower volume for MLPs to transport.

The next part of this series discusses last week’s price movements in detail.

Weekly data

The 69 Bcf net injection in the week ended August 21 compares to a net injection of 77 Bcf in the corresponding week last year and a five-year average net injection of 61 Bcf.

According to the EIA, from the week ended April 3, the beginning of the injection season, through the week ended August 21, net injections totaled 1,638 Bcf. In comparison, 1,786 Bcf were injected in the corresponding 21 weeks last year. The five-year average injection for the corresponding 21 weeks is 1,360 Bcf.

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Current inventories

After the 69 Bcf build in the week ended August 21, natural gas inventories were ~18.3% higher than last year’s levels and 2.9% higher than the five-year average. Inventories have been outpacing the five-year average since the week ended May 29. This is bearish for natural gas prices.

EIA forecasts

The EIA’s August STEO (“Short-Term Energy Outlook”) report, released on August 11, forecasts that inventories will total 3,867 Bcf at the end of the injection season in October. That would be 61 Bcf, or 1.6%, higher than the five-year average.

The EIA will release its next STEO on September 9.

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