Natural Gas Rising vs. Crude Oil

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"For futures spreaders. . . the shrinking discount has yielded a 32% return to date."

Well, we've been back at the grind for a whole week now after our Labor Day sign-off to summer. Labor Day's a seasonal turning point in the energy cycle. In the fall, natural gas typically gains against crude oil.

This Labor Day, natural gas price, measured by January futures, reflected a $7.596 per million BTU discount to crude oil. Over the past week, the discount eroded by 99 cents, or 13%.

Natural Gas Energy Discount vs. Crude Oil



For futures spreaders—that is, those long natural gas and short crude oil contracts—trading on exchange-minimum margins, the shrinking discount has yielded a 32% return to date.

This season's discount shrinkage is fast-paced compared with last year's. In 2008, a historically large discount was trimmed by 7.3% in the first week.

Not every seasonal spread starts out favorably, though. In fact, over the past 14 seasons, the discount's been trimmed (or, in one year, the premium augmented) only six times in the first week.

Let's hope what begins well, ends well.

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