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Futures, Cash Try BASE Jumping to Multi-Digit Declines; December Drops 22 Cents

Traders attempting to make decisions on purchases of weekend and Monday gas had a pretty easy time on Friday as both an imploding screen and weekend weather forecasts signaled little problem in procuring ample supplies at low prices.

Deep double- and triple-digit losses permeated both market zones and producing zones. Hardest hit was New England with $2 plus declines, and the average drop at all market points was a stout 42 cents. In the early going, futures were called 19 cents lower, and that set the stage for a cash and futures market rout. At the close, December had fallen 22.3 cents to $4.266 and January shed 23.2 cents to $4.417. January crude oil gained 66 cents to $76.51/bbl.

One New York analyst put the recent movements of the market in a psychological context. "The market seems conflicted and we can't blame it," said Breanne Dougherty of Societe Generale. "The immediate-term balance impact of the early cold snap can't be denied, but the underlying strength of domestic production and statistical unlikelihood of another polar vortex this year provide an overarching bearish pressure. We see more bullish than bearish pressure around a neutral $4.25/MMBtu handle over the next three weeks but continue to warn of how quick and dramatic a price correction can be if weather outlooks moderate."

Moderating weather outlooks were definitely on the table Friday. AccuWeather.com forecast that New York City's Friday high of 36 would reach 42 on Saturday and a balmy 68 by Monday. The seasonal high in New York is 52. Chicago's Friday high of 32 was seen advancing to 47 Saturday before easing to 42 Monday. The typical mid-November high in Chicago is 46. Denver's 56 high Friday was predicted to climb to 60 Saturday before receding to 44 on Monday, 5 degrees below normal.

Weekend and Monday gas at the Algonquin Citygates fell $2.11 to $3.87, and deliveries to Iroquois Waddington skidded 49 cents to $4.86. On Tennessee Zone 6 200 L, three-day packages changed hands down $2.10 to $3.75.

Gas destined for New York City on Transco Zone 6 tumbled $2.00 to $3.19, and packages on Tetco M-3 fell $1.44 to $3.17.

Forecast peak power loads and peak power pricing also was impacted. The PJM Interconnection reported that Monday's peak load was expected to reach 34,709 MW, just slightly above the typically low demand Saturday expected to be 34,548 MW. By contrast, Friday's peak load was predicted to reach 38,941 MW. ISO New England said Friday's peak load of 18,000 MW would fall to 16,900 MW Saturday and 16,300 MW Sunday.

IntercontinentalExchange said peak power Monday at the PJM West terminal dropped $12.93 to $35.92/MWh and peak power Monday in eastern New York (Zone G) tumbled $36.26 to $45.00/MWh.

On Millennium, weekend and Monday gas shed 82 cents to $2.30, and deliveries on Dominion South changed hands 86 cents lower at $2.85.

On Transco Leidy, parcels came in at $2.68, down 38 cents, and on Tennessee Zone 4 Marcellus weekend and Monday gas retreated 51 cents to $2.33.

"The frigid air mass will release its icy grip on Chicago as the weekend approaches, allowing warmth to trickle in," said AccuWeather.com meteorologist Becky Elliott. "The past week and a half has been headlined by an arctic chill, but that will go away this weekend. The dome of arctic air is forecast to gradually shift off to the east, when southwesterly winds will usher warmer air into the region ahead of a developing storm system.

"As this occurs, there may be a period of freezing rain late Friday night before precipitation changes to rain. The weekend should feel a little more seasonable as temperatures are projected to rebound into the 40s and perhaps even make it near 50 on Sunday. Rain will last through the weekend and will be around for the Chicago Bears game on Sunday."

Market zones in the Midwest and back into the Midcontinent also saw cascading prices. Gas on Alliance for the weekend and Monday fell 20 cents to $4.80, and at the ANR Joliet Hub gas was quoted at $4.78, down 21 cents. Deliveries to the Chicago Citygates shed 21 cents to $4.79, and on Michcon gas changed hands at $4.78, down 16 cents. Gas at Northern Natural Ventura fell 29 cents to $4.65.

Near-term temperature forecasts moderated overnight, although by the coming week cold was expected to re-emerge. "Arctic temperatures will gradually thaw over the Midwest and Northeast the next several days and will become warmer than normal by Sunday," said Natgasweather.com in its Friday morning forecast.

"A weather system tracking out of Texas Saturday will bring heavy rains and powerful thunderstorms, while a colder system will arrive over the north-central U.S. early next week with areas of rain and snow. There will be a much colder weather system late Thanksgiving Day that will bring a more intense blast of chilly northern Canadian air to the Midwest and Northeast, which will likely last through the holiday weekend."

Volatile price behavior may be a sign of things to come. Analyst Teri Viswanath of BNP Paribas and meteorologist Anneliese Alexander took a look at the market/weather universe and noted that just one month ago most forecasters had predicted November would be mild across the country, Alexander said. The pictures from Buffalo, NY, have convinced a lot of people that winter once again is going to be a frigid slog.

Yes, it will be a colder than normal winter, according to BNP Paribas. But another polar vortex? Alexander isn't convinced.

Paribas said the market may not be convinced that natural gas storage is adequate to sustain demand through another severely cold winter, but sustained output from Appalachia should convince the skeptics soon enough.

U.S. gas supply should overwhelm demand through 2015, said Viswanath. In addition Alexander said she isn't convinced another polar vortex is likely either. The country now appears to be about a month into a "weak" El Nino, she said, which likely continues through winter. Even a weak El Nino would mean colder temperatures, as noted last month by Weather Services International.

Other signals of a below-normal winter are warm waters along the West Coast and Alaska, which would push colder temperatures into the Lower 48 states, said Alexander.

In addition, October Siberian snow coverage was above normal, pointing to the odds of a negative Arctic oscillation (AO). Negative AOs on average indicate colder U.S. temperatures.

"I think there's still a concern here for the next month at least" on the winter forecast, said Alexander. "There's a lot of volatility, and we are struggling to figure out what's going on here."

Analysts surveying the trading landscape see a market vulnerable to the downside. "[Thursday's] wide price swings following a seemingly bullish storage figure attest to a variety and unusual volatility within the short-term temperature forecasts," said Jim Ritterbusch of Ritterbusch and Associates in closing comments Thursday to clients.

"Views have been rapidly changing, and clear trends much beyond a week or so have been of low confidence. In any event, consensus of ideas still favors a renewed bout of abnormally cold trends across a broad part of the Midwest within the six-10 day time window. And beyond next week, most forecasters are still favoring moderately below-normal trends well into the first week of December. While this would appear to keep the market well supported above the $4.30 area per January futures into next week, [Thursday's] trade reinforced our expectations that upside price follow-through to above last week's highs will prove limited.

"[Thursday's reported] 17 Bcf supply draw that was the first decline of the season was about 6 Bcf larger than average street expectations. Initial response pushed nearby values slightly above highs of this week and last but upside follow through was restricted to less than a couple of cents."

Expectations for next week's early (Wednesday) release of storage figures are starting to coalesce deep within triple-digits. Ritterbusch contends that "supply is still approaching 3.6 Tcf even after last week's larger than expected decline. This deficit of only about 6.4% against last year will provide a cushion against extended cold spells, especially when combined with a near-record pace of production. These supply side factors will be forced to the front from the back burner once temperatures show some normalization."

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