U.S. Gas Glut Sparks Ultra Bearish Sentiment Among Hedge Funds

(Reuters) — Portfolio investors have become extremely bearish about the outlook for U.S. gas prices, even though prices have already fallen to their lowest level in real terms since futures began trading in 1990.

Hedge funds and other money managers sold the equivalent of 399 billion cubic feet (Bcf) in the two major futures and options contracts linked to prices at Henry Hub in Louisiana over the seven days ending on Feb. 20.

Fund managers have been net sellers in each of the most recent five weeks, selling 2,085 Bcf since Jan. 16, according to position reports filed with the U.S. Commodity Futures Trading Commission.

As a result, the combined position has been reduced to a net short of 1,675 Bcf (3rd percentile for all weeks since 2010) down from a net long of 410 Bcf (42nd percentile) in the middle of January.

The gas market has been chronically oversupplied in recent months, with inventories 436 Bcf (+21% or +1.26 standard deviations) above the prior 10-year seasonal average on Feb. 16.

The surplus has swelled consistently since the start of the winter heating season on Oct. 1, when it was just 64 Bcf (+2% or +0.24 standard deviations).

Exceptionally strong El Niño conditions over the Pacific ensured temperatures have been mostly above average across the major population centers of the northern United States.

Domestic gas production has continued to increase, in spite of the relatively low prices, adding to the burgeoning surplus of gas in storage.

The rig count for gas has actually increased marginally since September 2023 as producers have been unresponsive to falling prices until the last few weeks.

In addition, more associated gas is being produced as a co-product of drilling for oil, where prices are close to the long-term inflation-adjusted average and drilling rates are steady.

From a purely positioning perspective, the balance of risks must lie to the upside, with real prices at multi-decade lows and lots of short positions that must eventually be repurchased.

Short positions have only ever been greater in the first quarter of 2020, when stocks were at record levels and the economy was bracing for the arrival of the first wave of the coronavirus epidemic.

So there is potential for a huge short-covering rally if and when the news flow becomes more positive and inventories start to erode.

But hedge fund managers have tried and failed to identify the turning point three times in the last twelve months and been forced to retreat each time.

Bloated gas stocks in Europe and Japan after the price spike of 2021/22 will make it hard for the market to rebalance via increased exports.

Many analysts now expect the rebalancing to be postponed until the winter of 2024/25 with prices likely to remain suppressed until nearer then.


Investors continued to add to their position in petroleum-related futures and options over the seven days ending on Feb. 16, but at a slower rate than in previous weeks.

Hedge funds and other money managers purchased the equivalent of 17 million barrels in the six most important petroleum-linked futures and options contracts.

All the buying was concentrated in NYMEX and ICE WTI (+29 million barrels) with small sales in Brent (-4 million), European gas oil (-4 million), U.S. diesel (-4 million) and U.S. gasoline (-1 million).

Even after the recent buying, positions in WTI remain the most bearish of any of the major oil contracts, weighed down by the continued rise in domestic oil production, even as OPEC restricts Middle East supplies.

The net position in NYMEX and ICE WTI of 109 million barrels is still in only the 8th percentile for all weeks since 2013.

That compares with net positions in Brent, gasoline and the distillates contracts all between the 60th and 70th percentiles.

WTI buying seems to have been motivated by unwinding previous bearish short positions (-17 million barrels) and cautious initiation of new longs (+13 million).

Crude inventories around the NYMEX WTI delivery point at Cushing in Oklahoma are still 14 million barrels (-32% or -1.14 standard deviations) below the prior 10-year seasonal average. Despite an extended shutdown of BP's refinery at Whiting in Indiana, Cushing stocks have increased only slightly in the last two weeks, underscoring the risk of a squeeze on deliverable supplies.

With positioning so bearish, the balance of risks lies to the upside; some fund managers have begun to cut short positions and get long accordingly.

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