Calling a Bottom in Natural Gas Prices? Good Luck With That
NEW YORK ( TheStreet) -- I can't call T. Boone Pickens a fool, but I will say that he's foolish for saying on CNBC Wednesday afternoon -- when natural gas finally broke below $2 -- that a bottom had to be "near" in the historic slide in the price of the most abundant fossil fuel in the U.S.
Calling a bottom in natural gas is a fool's errand.
Why does a bottom have to be "near"? I see no reason just because the $2 mark was breached, or because Pickens -- who has a history of making confident, yet wrong, predictions about the natural gas market (see his series of annual public proclamations about the "inevitable" passage of the NatGas Act, still languishing in legislative la la land for three years running).
In fact, there's reason to suspect there's considerable downside left in natural gas from here.
"It's never a good idea to pick a bottom," said Adam Bedard, senior director of energy analysis at consultant Bentek Energy. "To me, $2 is a psychological barrier so there is some support there, but people say that's as low as it goes, I think there is room to go lower."
Matt Smith, commodities analyst at Summit Energy, said the $2 mark was definitely a huge psychological level, but like breaking above $100 on oil in 2008, it was a case of not if, but when. Talk of the "one handle" (natural gas trading in the $1s) has been as predetermined as Calvinist faith and as fated as a Greek hero's tragic end.
At best, Smith said he think prices will drift sideways. "Prices will likely continue to drift sideways to lower as supply remains staunch and production refuses to come offline."
It's pretty simple to explain why there is reason to cover your ears when any market pundit talks of the $2 natural gas price as the "bottom" signal.
While there is some price support in the psychological threshold, on the ground actual supply and demand fundamentals suggests that natural gas is going lower yet.
Storage ability in the U.S. is near its max while supply is up year over year by 5.2 billion cubic feet (bcf), according to Bentek data.
What about those gas production shut-ins led by Chesapeake Energy (CHK) as a way to bring supply and demand back into balance? How about the fact that the Haynesville rig count has declined by more than 50% year over year, making it the poster-child for the natural gas drilling bust?
Neither matters much.
Remember how confident Chesapeake Energy CEO Aubrey McClendon was about being a "leader" in shutting in production to rationalize the market? McClendon also sounded pretty confident during Chesapeake's final conference call of 2011 when analysts questioned his decision to take off all of the company's natural gas hedges. He said a bottom was near in pricing, and he pointed to his company's track record in calling when a bottom was near. So much for bottom calling track records.