Talk about a divergence. Just as crude oil has been making headlines for its eye-popping moves on the downside, another energy commodity has been in the news for its equally astonishing moves to the upside.
Prices for natural gas, the heating and cooling fuel, leapt 11% in just a single session on Monday, adding to a rally that’s sent prices nearly doubling from this year’s lows. ETFs tied to natural gas have been surging in tandem, awakening from a five-year slumber that’s caused nothing but pain and frustration for investors.
As of Nov. 19, the $693 million United States Natural Gas Fund (UNG), which tracks natural gas futures, was up 64.1% year-to-date, after having been in the red for the year as recently as September.
UGAZ Spiking, DGAZ Not
The leveraged VelocityShares 3X Long Natural Gas ETN (UGAZ), which is nearly as popular as its unleveraged competitor, with $604 million in assets, is now up 157% year-to-date, following a 60% surge in the past two trading sessions alone. UGAZ was down 25% on Sept. 14, before the rally began.
Meanwhile, anyone unfortunate enough to bet on falling natural gas prices via the $520 million VelocityShares 3X Inverse Natural Gas ETN (DGAZ) is in a world of hurt, because the product dropped by more than half in the past two days. The ETN is down 91% year-to-date.
These leveraged and inverse products are trading tools and not intended to be buy-and-hold investments.
Highest Since 2014
Natural gas prices moving to just shy of $5/mmbtu puts it in territory not seen since 2014, when record-low temperatures enveloped the U.S. as a southward shift in the “polar vortex” unleashed frigid Arctic air into the country. During that winter, natural gas prices also doubled, peaking at $6.50, and inventories of the fuel tumbled to an 11-year low.
This year, a similar situation is playing out, as colder-than-normal temperatures push into much of the country, raising worries about the adequacy of storage levels.
Adding to jitters, natural gas inventories are peaking at their lowest point in 15 years heading into the winter withdrawal season. Back in the 2013/2014 winter, storage levels peaked at 3,834 billion cubic feet—close to the five-year average. This time, they are peaking at 3,247 bcf, 15.3% below those levels.