Benign April Weather Has U.S. Natural Gas Traders Looking to May

A quick look at the weather in the four largest U.S. cities shows April, at least through Tuesday, was pretty close to average.

New York, Los Angeles, Chicago and Houston sit near the points of the compass, so they provide a clue as to how the month has played out across the Lower 48.

It appears temperatures were close to normal in the North and East and a little higher in the South and West. Overall, the weather has been relatively benign. What’s the proof? The natural-gas market, of course.

Here’s the wall of numbers: The New York average temperature was 53.8 degrees Fahrenheit (12.1 Celsius), or 1.1 degrees above normal, according to the National Weather Service. Chicago was a degree above normal at 49.6; Los Angeles came in 2.3 degrees higher at 65.2; and Houston topped them all with 3.8 degrees above par at 73.4.

There were some cold days thrown in there. Chicago had a trace of snow on April 22, the weather service said.

A year ago, natural gas put into storage in April totaled 209 billion cubic feet and may end this month at 269 bcf, said Teri Viswanath, director of commodities strategy at BNP Paribas SA in New York.

Less Demand

“All things considered, you are looking at a market that is 2 bcf a day looser,” Viswanath said.

In other words, it hasn’t been cold enough to get people to crank up their thermostats or hot enough to get those air conditioners going. On Monday, natural-gas prices reached a 34-month low.

The trading community now is looking toward May for signs that heat may be arriving. There was a slight uptick in prices on the promise of higher temperatures across the eastern U.S. as that month begins.

The problem with the forecast for warmth in the next few weeks is that “it doesn’t stay,” Viswanath said.

Weather that brings joy to the rest of us may not bring smiles to the natural-gas industry: If the gas isn’t being burned to warm homes or create electricity to power air conditioners, it starts to pile up. This also means the prices will stay low for a longer period, she said.

The other problem is, what happens if the benign weather continues into the summer? Well, those are the kinds of things that keep folks like Viswanath up at night.

She said the markets really could use a long, hot summer in Texas. That state accounts for 18 percent of gas demand in terms of electricity production in the summer months.

So, sorry, Texas, it seems there may be more than a few people out there pulling for your misery -- proving once again there is more to the weather than just the weather.

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