Warmest winter since 2000 no solace to natural gas market

Old man winter leaves nat gas wanting

March 7 (Bloomberg) -- The mildest U.S. winter since 2000 will end in two weeks with warming temperatures, leaving little chance for a last gasp of heating demand that would bolster natural gas prices.

Temperatures may exceed 70 degrees Fahrenheit (21 Celsius) in parts of the mid-Atlantic and southern Midwest by the time spring officially arrives March 20, said Commodity Weather Group LLC in Bethesda, Maryland. Temperatures may reach 69 in New York tomorrow and 60 in Chicago on March 15, according to AccuWeather Inc. of State College, Pennsylvania.

While there may be brief spells of lower temperatures, the coldest part of the average U.S. winter has passed. The gas market needed cold to help offset weaker demand caused by rising inventories and a slumping economy, said James L. Williams, owner of WTRG Economics in London, Arkansas.

“It’s just out of whack,” Williams said. “The warm winter has clearly exacerbated it. Unless it’s going to be an ugly March, it’s not going to make up for the warm winter. You can’t catch up at this point.”

Gas has fallen 23 percent this year, making it the worst performer on Standard & Poor’s GSCI commodity index. On Feb. 24, inventories of the fuel were 45 percent above the five-year average, compared with 13.7 percent on Dec. 23, according to Energy Department data.

Futures Decline

Futures fell to a 10-year low in New York as forecasts for above-average March temperatures signaled reduced demand for the furnace and power plant fuel. Gas for April delivery declined 5.4 cents, or 2.3 percent, to settle at $2.302 per million British thermal units on the New York Mercantile Exchange.

“People are starting to come to the realization that this was the winter that wasn’t,” said Phil Flynn, senior market analyst at PFGBest Research in Chicago.

This winter in the contiguous U.S. was the fourth-warmest on record, with an average temperature of 36.8 degrees Fahrenheit (2.7 Celsius), the National Climatic Data Center reported today.

That made it the warmest since the record winter of 2000, which had an average temperature of 37.17 degrees, the center said. Meteorologists designate winter as being from Dec. 1 to Feb. 29. The calendar start to spring is based on the equinox.

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