How to trade natural gas

Natural gas is one of the most commonly-traded commodities out there. Being highly volatile, it presents plenty of opportunities for traders. Find out how to trade natural gas, what affects its price and some useful strategies.

Charts Source: Bloomberg

Natural gas trading basics

Natural gas is currently the second most used form of energy to generate power, representing 22% of globally generated power in 2017.1 The popularity of natural gas has been maintained by its increased use in developing countries like China and Indonesia for the last decade or so.

Natural gas is used to heat buildings, boil water, fuel vehicles, cook food, run air conditioning units and power industrial furnaces. Household appliances like a gas hob or a house’s radiators function by turning the energy supplied by natural gas into heat.

Henry Hub Natural Gas (NG) futures are the industry benchmark and they are traded through the Chicago Mercantile Exchange Group (CME Group). The name comes from the Henry Hub, a natural gas pipeline in Louisiana which serves as the official delivery location for futures contracts. By volume, natural gas futures are the third largest physical commodity futures contract in the world.2

World’s biggest producers of natural gas

Unlike oil, which can be found in vast reservoirs beneath the earth’s surface, natural gas is often locked in rocks and sediment. To get it out, extraction companies will usually use a process known as hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, in which water, chemicals and sand are forced deep into the earth to drive the natural gas out.

Currently, the US leads the way in the fracking industry, producing 734.5 billion cubic metres of natural gas in 2017.

Rank Top natural gas producers3 Production in billion cubic metres (2017)
1 USA 734.5
2 Russia 635.6
3 Iran 223.9
4 Canada 176.3
5 Qatar 175.7

What moves the price of natural gas?

As with most commodities, the price of natural gas is driven by supply and demand. Some of the key factors affecting supply and demand for natural gas are the stored reserves, global demand, development of alternative fuels, prices of alternative fuels and the weather.

Essentially, if more people want to buy natural gas than sell it, the price will rise because it is more sought-after (the ‘demand’ outstrips the ‘supply’). On the other hand, if supply is greater than demand, the price will fall.

Stored reserves of natural gas

Many countries around the world have stores of natural gas which they can use in the event of a supply glut. By storing natural gas, governments hope to alleviate some of the problems associated with increased prices in times of reduced production.

By keeping stores of natural gas, countries will not need to buy as much during a supply shortage, which would keep demand low for a brief period. However, once a country’s reserves run out or run low, they will need to buy more which in the case of a shortage, means higher prices in lieu of reduced availability of natural gas.

Global demand

Global demand for natural gas has largely been on the rise for the past decade. In the next five years, demand for natural gas is forecast to rise by around 1.6% a year – with the majority of this rising demand coming from emerging Asian markets.4

That being said, the US is still the top consumer of natural gas in the world, followed by Russia, China, Iran and Indonesia. What effect an increasing global demand for natural gas will have on prices remains to be seen. If increased production from Qatar and America can satisfy the rising demand, prices may not be too drastically affected.

Rank Top natural gas consumers3 Production in billion cubic metres (2017)
1 US 739.5
2 Russia 424.8
3 China 240.4
4 Iran 214.4
5 Indonesia 117.1

Development of alternative power

The development of greener alternatives to fossil fuels could cause the price of natural gas to drop. However, it is thought that in the coming years, the global population will become less reliant on fossil fuels like natural gas.

Evidence shows that global consumption of renewable energy has grown year on year, from 107 million tonnes oil equivalent in 2007 to 486.8 million tonnes oil equivalent in 2017.

Support and resistance for natural gas trading chart

Price of alternative forms of energy

If other fuels are cheaper to buy than natural gas, demand for natural gas will fall. This could happen if oil is being overproduced, or if governments dedicate more resources to building nuclear power plants and wind farms – which would reduce the price of these alternative forms of energy.

Equally, if government regulations place greater restrictions on hydraulic fracturing, it is likely that less natural gas will be extracted. Therefore, the price will increase relative to the price of other forms of energy generation such as renewable energy or nuclear power. A number of countries including Ireland, Germany, Australia, Scotland and Uruguay have already permanently or temporarily banned fracking in light of public opposition.

Weather

Severe weather, such as hurricanes and storms, can shut down natural gas production hubs for days or even weeks at a time. This means that reserves will run low as supply gets used up, which would cause the price to increase.

Equally, particularly cold winter weather could lead to more people increasing the heat in their homes. This would mean that more natural gas was being used to satisfy an increased demand which would cause its price to increase

Ways to trade natural gas

  1. Future contracts
  2. Options
  3. Contracts for difference
  4. Spread bets

Futures contracts

The most common way that traders take a position on natural gas is with a futures contract, such as the Henry Hub natural gas futures contract on the CME. With a futures contract, traders agree to the delivery of a certain amount of natural gas at a set date in the future for an agreed-upon price. However, this does mean that the trader may have to eventually take delivery of the asset.

With IG, you can speculate on the price of a futures contract – without taking ownership of the underlying asset – with a CFD or spread betting account.

Options

Aside from futures, traders can use options to speculate on the price of natural gas. There are two types of options, puts and calls , both of which give traders the right but not the obligation to buy or sell an underlying asset before a certain expiry date.

Contracts for difference (CFD)

CFDs enable you to speculate on the price movements of natural gas without taking any physical ownership of the underlying. With a CFD, you agree to exchange the difference in price from when you opened the contract, to when you close it.

CFDs can act as an effective hedge for your other active positions as they enable you to go short or long , meaning you can benefit from markets that are falling as well as rising.

Learn more about CFD trading.

Spread bets

Spread bets enable you to make predictions on price movements in the natural gas market without ever taking any physical ownership. Instead, you make a prediction on the direction in which the price of natural gas will move. The extent to which your prediction is correct determines your profit or loss.

Learn more about spread bets.

Natural gas trading strategies

Prices for commodities that are a source of energy, such as natural gas or oil, have historically been volatile because of the numerous factors that can affect their supply and demand levels. As a result, the best trading strategies to use during your time on the natural gas market are ones which capitalise on small-time gains such as day trading – as the price can shift against you overnight in a long-term position.

Day trading strategy

Day trading can be a viable way to speculate on the price of natural gas due to the high volatility in the market. Traders who deploy a day trading strategy seek to make small profits on a lot of trades throughout the day, meaning they are constantly scanning the markets throughout a single trading session.

Natural gas trading

As a result, a day trading strategy is best employed by individuals who have a lot of time to commit to the markets and who can dedicate their attention to news stories and other events that could affect the price of natural gas.

Range trading strategy

In a range trading strategy, a trader will identify levels of support and resistance in an asset’s price movements and seek to buy at levels of support and sell at levels of resistance . Range strategies work best in markets with lots of price movements where there isn’t a particular long-term trend.

This makes it a feasible strategy to use on the natural gas market, assuming that traders know how to accurately identify levels of support and resistance.

Discover how to identify levels of support and resistance .

Day trading natural gas futures

Breakout trading strategy

Breakout trading is another effective strategy to use in highly volatile markets. Its success relies on a trader spotting a price increase in the early stages of that trend. As a result, a trader will buy low and sell high, after the assets price has ‘broken’ above a level of historical resistance.

Breakout traders can also enter a short position when the price of an asset ‘breaks’ below a historical level of support; meaning that a breakout trading strategy can be used in both rising and falling markets.

Natural gas trading hours

Location Trading hours*
Chicago 17:00 – 04:00 Sunday to Friday (Central time)
New York 18:00 – 05:00 Sunday to Friday (Eastern time)
London 23:00 – 10:00 Sunday to Friday (UK time)

* Hours are set by CME Group and may vary. Hours will shift between March and November as the UK and US change to and from daylight savings on different days

5 steps to trading natural gas

  1. Learn how CFDs and spread bets work
  2. Create an account and deposit your funds
  3. Analyse supply and demand factors in the natural gas market
  4. Choose the trading strategy that works best for you
  5. Open, monitor and close your first position

Sources:

  1. Enerda, 2018
  2. CME, 2019
  3. BP, 2017
  4. IEA, 2018

This information has been prepared by IG, a trading name of IG Markets Limited. In addition to the disclaimer below, the material on this page does not contain a record of our trading prices, or an offer of, or solicitation for, a transaction in any financial instrument. IG accepts no responsibility for any use that may be made of these comments and for any consequences that result. No representation or warranty is given as to the accuracy or completeness of this information. Consequently any person acting on it does so entirely at their own risk. Any research provided does not have regard to the specific investment objectives, financial situation and needs of any specific person who may receive it. It has not been prepared in accordance with legal requirements designed to promote the independence of investment research and as such is considered to be a marketing communication. Although we are not specifically constrained from dealing ahead of our recommendations we do not seek to take advantage of them before they are provided to our clients. See full non-independent research disclaimer and quarterly summary.

Explore the markets with our free course

Discover the range of markets you can spread bet on - and learn how they work - with IG Academy's online course.

You might be interested in…

Find out what charges your trades could incur with our transparent fee structure.

Discover why so many clients choose us, and what makes us a world-leading provider of spread betting and CFDs.

Stay on top of upcoming market-moving events with our customisable economic calendar.

Spread bets and CFDs are complex instruments and come with a high risk of losing money rapidly due to leverage. 76% of retail investor accounts lose money when trading spread bets and CFDs with this provider. You should consider whether you understand how spread bets and CFDs work, and whether you can afford to take the high risk of losing your money. Spread bets and CFDs are complex instruments and come with a high risk of losing money rapidly due to leverage.