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The Easy Money In European Natural Gas Is Gone

The Easy Money In European Natural Gas Is Gone

Gas Storage

At the end of last winter’s heating season, it was an unusually cold spell that upended European natural gas markets, with storage levels falling below average and prices firming up as demand shot up.

At the end of this winter’s heating season, it is the unusually mild weather in most of Western Europe for most of the winter that has driven natural gas prices down and left supplies higher than the seasonal average.

The summer gas futures at the Dutch TTF hub have declined by 16 percent so far this year and have been trading lately around the lowest in 10 months. The winter gas futures contract, however, has dropped by just one third of the decline in the summer contract, according to data from ICE Endex compiled by Bloomberg.  

So the discount of the Dutch summer natural gas futures to the winter contract widened to the biggest since 2011 as of early March. Typically, such a wide spread would mean that one of the most common European gas trades—buying cheaper gas futures in the summer to sell in the winter—would be the most profitable in eight years.

However, traders are unable to take full advantage of the wide winter-summer spread because several factors have combined this winter season to create a perfect storm in the European natural gas markets. These factors are higher stockpiles than usual, limited available storage capacity as most of it is booked out amid declining overall capacity, and increased liquefied natural gas (LNG) shipments to Europe as Asian LNG spot prices continue to tumble.

First, unlike last year’s winter, this winter has been unusually mild in many parts in Western Europe. This has led to lower natural gas demand and lower withdrawal from storage—a stark contrast compared to the 2018 winter.

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