Energy Markets Tumble on Nat Gas Data

The EIA's weekly report shows an uptick in inventories, causing energy commodities to decline despite threats from a robust storm in the Gulf.
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Crude prices are falling hard and natural gas futures are down nearly 10% in recent afternoon trading Thursday. The declines follow the release of the Energy Information Administration's weekly inventory report, which revealed that natural gas inventories grew considerably more than expected during the week ending Aug. 22.

West Texas crude for October delivery was recently sliding $2.80 to $115.35 a barrel at the New York Mercantile Exchange, and Brent crude was losing $2.22 at $114.00 a barrel. Near-month natural gas is plummeting 73 cents to $7.87 per million British thermal units.

Reformulated gasoline was 7 cents weaker at $2.99 a gallon, heating oil was also down 7 cents at $3.19 a gallon, and natural gas was falling 6 cents at $8.54 per million British thermal units.

The EIA's natural gas report estimates that working gas in storage increased last week by 102 billion cubic feet to 2,757 billion cubic feet in total underground storage. That increase puts total current storage in the high end of the five-year average range for this time of year. Last week's injection was twice what most analysts were expecting, according to an analyst census conducted by

Bloomberg

.

The increase in natural gas stores was mostly caused by a decline in natural gas consumption, proving yet again that U.S. consumers are adjusting their behavior and spending patterns in an attempt to save money on energy costs. Recently, energy markets have been flooded with reports of falling demand for energy around the globe, which, in concert with a strengthening U.S. dollar, have clobbered crude oil prices down to about $112 a barrel from $148 a barrel just six weeks ago.

Crude prices had been strong in Thursday pre-session trading, buoyed by hurricane-related fears in the Gulf of Mexico. The most recent storm update by the National Hurricane Center reported that Tropical Storm Gustav was positioned due east of Jamaica, moving toward the Gulf of Mexico at about 15 mph with maximum sustained winds of 70 mph. The National Hurricane Center is predicting that Gustav will reach hurricane strength sometime Thursday.

While Gustav remains a threat to offshore drilling platforms, the Port of Houston, and to the many oil refineries lining the Texas and Louisiana coasts, the storm all but disappeared from energy traders' radars once the EIA's natural gas report was released Thursday morning.

Meanwhile, energy stocks have been traversing a volatile trading range Thursday, first moving higher when U.S. equity markets opened, only to reverse course and follow energy commodities downward after the EIA's bearish data were released.

ConocoPhillips

(COP) - Get Report

was recently down 0.7% at $82.90,

BP

(BP) - Get Report

was sliding 1.8% at $57.17, and

Exxon Mobil

(XOM) - Get Report

was advancing 0.4% at $80.81 a share.

The

U.S. Oil Fund

(USO) - Get Report

, an exchange-traded fund that closely tracks the performance of WTI futures contracts on the Nymex, was recently down 2.3% at $93.46.