So far this year, natural gas has performed the worst among major commodities, posting painful losses in January and February. It has rebounded somewhat in the last few weeks, but hovering around $3 per MMBtu, gas prices are still sharply lower compared to the fourth quarter.
Changes in seasonal temperatures are a pivotal factor for natural gas markets, and warmer winters mean weaker demand. Natural gas consumption spikes during winter months as millions of people crank up the heat, while consumption patterns descend into valleys in the spring and fall, with a smaller peak in the summer. A bout of warm weather during winter can upend gas demand forecasts.
And that is exactly what happened this year. According to NOAA, the U.S. just posted its second warmest February on record, dating back to when data collection began in the 19th century. Average temperatures were 7.3 degrees higher than average.
Heading into winter, natural gas analysts expected colder temperatures to help draw down on record high inventory levels. But it wasn’t to be. After mild temperatures swept across the continent for long stretches of February, natural gas spot prices crashed below $2.50/MMBtu by the end of the month, down more than a third compared to December highs.