Gas Stockpiles May Show Smaller-Than-Average Gain, Analysts Say

U.S. natural-gas stockpiles expanded by 1 percent last week as seasonal weather kept gains near the five-year average, according to analyst estimates compiled by Bloomberg.

Inventories rose by 24 billion cubic feet to 2.511 trillion in the week ended April 13, based on the median of 20 estimates. The five-year average change for the week is an increase of 26 billion, according to the Energy Department, which is scheduled to release its weekly supply report tomorrow.

Gas has dropped 35 percent this year to decade lows as record production and mild winter weather caused a widening supply surplus. Stockpiles of 2.487 trillion cubic feet in the week ended April 6 were 59 percent above the five-year average, last week’s report showed. Supplies the previous week were 61 percent higher, the biggest gap since April 2006.

“We had close-to-normal levels of heating-degree days in the consuming East and West regions last week,” said Eric Bickel, a natural-gas analyst at Summit Energy Services in Louisville, Kentucky, who estimates stockpiles rose by 26 billion cubic feet.

Heating-degree days are a weather-based measure of gas demand. A lower-than-normal increase in stockpiles may not be enough for a sustained increase in prices, Bickel said.

“We’re still at robust levels of storage,” he said.

Winter in the lower 48 states was the warmest since 2000, the National Climatic Data Center in Asheville, North Carolina, said March 7.

Record Production

U.S. gas production reached record levels in 2011 on increased output from shale formations from Pennsylvania to Texas. Output gained 0.8 percent in January to 83.17 billion cubic feet a day from December, the Energy Department said in its EIA-914 report March 29.

About 51 percent of U.S. households use natural gas for heating, according to the department.

Gas consumption in the U.S. declines after the winter heating season ends and before hot weather boosts consumption by power plants to run air conditioners.

The analyst stockpile estimates ranged from gains of 10 billion to 41 billion cubic feet.

Natural gas futures last week dropped 10.8 cents, or 5.2 percent, to $1.981 per million British thermal units on the New York Mercantile Exchange. Gas settled unchanged today at $1.951.

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