CFTC/ICE commitment of traders suspended for second week
NORTHWEST EUROPE is now roughly two-thirds of the way through the winter heating season. In an average year, two-thirds of all heating degree days at Frankfurt in Germany occur on or before February 10. Cumulative heating demand has been the lowest since the winter of 2015/16 and before that 2006/07. With the 2022/23 heating season now winding down, traders’ attention has already turned to the summer refill season and winter 2023/24:
U.S. INTEREST RATE traders anticipate a major reduction in inflationary pressure – with or without a significant slowdown in the business cycle – which has been reflected in a sharp reduction in forward interest rate forecasts. Market forecasts for interest rates at the end of 2024 fell by more than a full percentage point between the start of November and the start of February:
EUROPE’s gas inventories are rapidly nearing a record high for the time of year following warmer than normal temperatures and reductions in industrial consumption. EU28 inventories were 937 TWh on January 9 closing in on the seasonal record of 944 TWh set in winter 2019/20.
Stocks were +247 TWh (+36% or +2.37 standard deviations) above the prior ten-year seasonal average up from a surplus of +92 TWh (+10% or +0.86 standard deviations) at the start of the winter season on October 1. The storage surplus is still increasing.
Inventories are projected to reach a post-winter low of 591 TWh with a probable range of 460 TWh to 749 TWh. If that proves correct, storage facilities would end the winter 52% full, with a likely range from 41% to as much as 66%:
U.S. GAS front-month futures prices have slumped to less than $3.80 per million British thermal units (34th percentile for all months since 1990) from more than $9.10 (86th percentile) at the end of August. Figures have been adjusted for inflation using the core consumer price index for all items excluding food and energy:
EUROPE’s gas inventories have continued to accumulate later into the start of the traditional winter heating season than any other year in records dating back to 2011. Gas inventories in the European Union and the United Kingdom (EU28) were still rising on November 13, later than the previous record of November 12 in 2011 and far past the median peak occurring on October 26. The late fill is attributable to a combination of warmer-than-normal temperatures and high prices rationing consumption. Late fill is lifting inventories close to a record high and reducing the probability stocks will fall critically low before the end of winter:
GREAT BRITAIN’s maximum winter loads on the transmission system since 1990/91 are illustrated in the chart below (loads exclude Northern Ireland which has its own electricity network). Loads shown are “triads” – the three highest half-hourly loads separated by at least 10 days occurring each winter between November and February. Triads are used to set transmission network use of system (TNUoS) charges for large electricity consumers who are metered on a half-hourly basis. Triads are declared retrospectively after the end of each winter in March (“What are electricity triads?” National Grid, 2018).
Half-hourly (HH) customers are billed for TNUoS based on the amount of electricity they use during the three triad half-hours. Triads set charges for the entire year. In the limit, if a HH consumer uses no electricity from the grid during those three half hour periods, their TNUoS is set at zero for the entire year. The possibility a triad might be declared gives HH customers a strong incentive to minimise electricity use and/or generate their own power during periods when the total load on the network is expected to be very high.
Triad charging helps reduce strain on the grid during the winter peak, usually between 1630 GMT and 1800 GMT, when street lighting comes on, families start preparing the evening meal, but many shops and offices are still open and occupied. Several consultancies offer triad forecasting services – alerting HH consumers when there is an elevated risk that a triad could occur so they can reduce their net load temporarily.
In winter 2021/22, triads occurred on Thursday December 2 (43.7 GW at 1630-1700 GMT); Wednesday January 5 (42.8 GW at 1700-1730 GMT); and Thursday January 20 (43.5 GW at 1700-1730 GMT) (“Triads 2021/22”, National Grid, March 29, 2022).
Triad loads have been declining since 2007/08, and especially since 2010/11, as a result of improvements in energy efficiency, sluggish economic growth, changes in the industrial mix, and an increase in self-generation by HH consumers as well as embedded generation from solar panels added to homes, offices and local distribution networks:
U.S. OIL PRODUCERS increased the number of rigs drilling for oil to 622 on November 10 up from 610 two weeks earlier. Drilling increased significantly for the first time since July. The number of active rigs has rebounded from a pandemic low of just 172 in August 2020 and is nearing the pre-pandemic level of 683 in early March 2020.
But the resumption has been much slower than after the two previous downturns. The rig count has risen by a total of +450 (+3.8 per week) over the 117 weeks since August 2020 compared with an increase of +544 (+4.6 per week) at the same point after the last cyclical low in 2016 and +885 (+7.6 per week) after the cyclical low in 2009:
NORTHWEST EUROPE’s gas futures prices for deliveries in December, the first part of winter, are still above those for Northeast Asia, continuing to divert cargoes. But the premium has narrowed to around €30/MWh from €60-75 two months ago as Europe’s gas supply has improved and storage has neared maximum capacity. Europe’s lower gas prices are steadily filtering through to lower prices in East and South Asia for spot cargoes, though prices remain exceptionally high compared with before 2022:
GLOBAL FOOD PRICES fell for the fourth month running in July, according to the UN Food and Agriculture Organization’s price index, but they are still +13% higher than in the same month in 2021:
U.S. INITIAL CLAIMS for unemployment insurance benefits are trending upward, with an average of 255,000 claims filed in the four weeks ending on July 29, up from 171,000 in the four weeks ending on April 1, indicating the job market has started to cool:
U.S. GAS INVENTORIES increased by +41 billion cubic feet last week and have risen by +1,075 bcf in total since the start of April. But stocks are still -377 bcf (-13%) below the pre-pandemic five-year average for 2015-2019 and show no sign of erasing the deficit:
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EUROPE’s gas storage is filling at the fastest rate on record, and now holds above-average volumes, as utilities try to accumulate inventories ahead of a possible shut off of imports from Russia next winter, and high prices attract heavy LNG inflows away from Asia while discouraging industrial consumption:
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