Hedge funds ended their record bearish streak on U.S. natural gas as an unusual spring cold snap stoked demand amid signs that output is slipping from an all-time high.
Speculators held a net-long position in four gas contracts for the first time since December 2014, U.S. Commodity Futures Trading Commission data for the week ended April 5 show. Long positions climbed 0.9 percent, while shorts slid 4.7 percent.
Early April temperatures in the U.S. East dropped to levels more commonly seen in the winter, extending a gas rally from a 17-year low. Production is retreating from a record high as low prices force drillers to cut spending. Still, gas futures are hovering at the lowest seasonal levels since the 1990s as the biggest stockpile glut in four years widens.
“This bullish move is a big shift for the gas market,” said Kent Bayazitoglu, an analyst at Gelber & Associates in Houston. “The sentiment is that we’ve hit the low and prices are going to edge higher. When you have cold lingering in the Northeast like this, it gets traders’ attention.”
Gas futures advanced 5.1 cents, or 2.7 percent, to $1.954 per million British thermal units on the New York Mercantile Exchange in the period covered by the trading commission’s report after climbing to $2.074 on March 4, the highest intraday price since Feb. 11. The futures settled at $1.99 on Friday.
After a mild winter, gas inventories are 54.4 percent about the five-year average, the biggest surplus since 2012. Unless intense summer heat boosts demand from power plants, stockpiles will test physical storage constraints in the fall, keeping prices under pressure.
“It’s tough to be bullish with inventories at these high levels,” said Jason Schenker, president of Prestige Economics LLC in Austin, Texas.
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