Who Hit the Switch?

December 9, 2010

We have been lucky over the pas t few years. We have been blessed with warmer than usual winter temperatures. I know; last year we had some major snowstorms but overall the winter temperatures have been warmer.

Over the last year we have seen the natural gas market prices react to these warmer temperatures. Storage numbers have been at a 5-year high and prices have continued to drop to their lowest sustaining level in the last 3 to 4 years.

Speaking with many energy analysts, they feel we may have hit the bottom and prices will slowly start inching up.

Inching up may be an understatement? Just in the last week, prices jumped over 10%. Hit with the sudden cold front the market took off.

The cost of buying natural gas on the open market is made up of 2 factors. Nymex (gas out of the ground to the banks of Louisiana) and Basis (the transportation cost for getting natural gas delivered to your local provider). These 2 factors combined give us the Index. This is the total wholesale cost to buy natural gas on the open market.

The last couple of weeks have seen the market in a holding pattern. Nymex prices were under $4.00 a decatherm ($.40 cents a therm) and it was a wait and see scenario. Should we have seen continued mild temperatures the market would have remained stable.

With the sudden switch to cold temperatures and forecast for a continued cold snap; the market did not inch up but leapt. Nymex prices open today, as of this writing, at $4.61 a decatherm. Measure this against the low opening on 10/25/10 of $3.29 a decatherm.

Prices are still low compared to where they were 2 to 3 years ago. In 2008, natural gas prices hit a high of $14 to $16 a decatherm ($1.40 to $1.60 a therm). Just last year (2009) we were looking at the average price to compare of around $10.00 a decathem ($1.00 a therm). We are now seeing fixed price positions in the low to mid $6.00 a decatherm range.

Each account is unique and priced individually, for pricing is based on demand factors. Many clients are seasonal clients and their biggest usage comes from heating their locations during the winter. Their natural gas prices would be higher than a client having a more even demand factor, for they use natural gas throughout the year (a restaurant would be a good example).

Some clients have benefited by floating the market, taking advantage of the falling prices over the last couple of years. Now may be the time to begin a discussion and review your options. There is more upside risk (chance of prices raising higher) than there is downside risk (market prices have been at a 4 year low).

You can lock the price going forward for a 1 or 2-year period, which will provide an overall savings from the average prices you have been paying over the last year or at the minimum, lock the winter month which will provide price certainty.

Should you feel this is only a temporary rise in market prices, you may choose to float the market and look for a continued flatness in pricing.

One other option to consider, should the float scenario be of interest, would be to lock the basis (transportation cost) and continue to float the nymex. Several of our clients have found success with this option in the past. This position is normally taken when they see the Nymex as being too high and feel the market will be dropping over time. In the past, if we saw basis price fall under $2.00 this was considered to be a good deal. The current basis prices are well under $2.00.

Should you like to know more about your deregulated gas options email george@hbsadvantage.com or call 856-857-1230

Visit us on the web www.hutchinsonbusinesssolutions.com

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