U.S. natural gas futures fell almost 5% on March 17 with oil prices declining as the coronavirus slows economic growth and forecasts for milder weather and less heating demand next week than previously expected.

Front-month gas futures for April delivery on the New York Mercantile Exchange fell 8.6 cents, or 4.7%, to settle at $1.729 per million British thermal units (MMBtu). That puts the contract within a nickel of its lowest close in four years.

Brent crude fell to its lowest since 2016 as the coronavirus pandemic slowed economic growth and oil demand while Saudi Arabia and Russia kept up their battle for market share.

Even before the coronavirus started to spread, gas prices were trading near their lowest in years. Near-record production and mild weather has enabled utilities to leave more gas in storage, making fuel shortages and price spikes unlikely this winter.

Gas futures were trading about 40% below the eight-month high of $2.905/MMBtu hit in early November.

But prices from December 2020 on were all trading positive, on expectations gas demand will start to rise. Calendar 2021 traded above 2022 for a third session in a row for the first time since May 2019.

With cooler weather expected, data provider Refinitiv projected gas demand in the U.S. Lower 48 states, including exports, would rise from an average of 104.7 billion cubic feet per day (Bcf/d) this week to 106.8 Bcf/next week. That compares with Refinitiv's forecasts on March 16 of 103.2 Bcf/d for this week and 108.7 Bcf/d for next week.

The amount of gas flowing to U.S. LNG export plants was on track to rise to 8.6 Bcf/d on March 17 from 8.5 Bcf/d on March 16 due mostly to increases at Cheniere Energy Inc.’s Sabine Pass export terminal in Louisiana, according to Refinitiv. That increase in overall LNG flows came despite a decline at Cheniere’s Corpus Christi plant in Texas and compares with an average of 8.0 Bcf/d last week and an all-time daily high of 9.5 Bcf/d on Jan. 31.

Analysts said flows to Sabine declined over the weekend in part because fog reduced the number of vessels that could enter and exit the port. Cheniere said it does not comment on operations.

Gas production in the Lower 48 states held at 94.5 Bcf/d for a third day in a row on March 16, according to Refinitiv. That compares with an average of 93.9 Bcf/d last week and an all-time daily high of 96.6 Bcf/d on Nov. 30.