Physical gas prices for Thursday delivery took on a two-sided look in Wednesday's trading with East and Northeast points registering gains of $1.00 to $2.00, but into the Midwest and Producing regions, prices slumped from about a dime to 20 cents.
New England put up the day's biggest advances, but prices were firm from Boston to deep into Appalachia and the Marcellus. Overall, the market eased 4 cents.
Futures continued on their merry way south once again, with the January contract falling 6.9 cents to $3.805, and February sliding 6.9 cents as well to $3.808. January crude oil showed some signs of recovery and added 50 cents to $67.38/bbl.
Major metropolitan areas along the East Coast were on top of the leaderboard with Algonquin Citygates jumping $2.19 to $5.93, and parcels into Iroquois Waddington slipping 11 cents to $3.99. Gas on Tennessee Zone 6 200 L soared $1.99 to $5.83. Gas on its way to New York City on Transco Zone 6 added 20 cents to $3.74, and deliveries on Tetco M-3 rose 29 cents to $3.25.
Weather and power market dynamics were key in the day's gains. AccuWeather.com predicted a temperature drop for major population centers for Thursday. Boston's high of 51 Wednesday was forecast to fall to 43 Thursday and drop to 40 on Friday. The normal high in Boston is 45. New York City's 46 high on Wednesday was expected to slide to 42 Thursday and recover slightly to 43 on Friday. The seasonal high is 47. Philadelphia's max of 50 on Wednesday was seen dropping to 44 Thursday and rising to 46 on Friday, 3 degrees below normal.
"Sunny days will be hard to come by in Philadelphia, with several rounds of rain and drizzle in the forecast," said AccuWeather.com's Becky Elliott. "Thursday may be the only day through the weekend where sunglasses are needed, [and] chilly air is forecast to return to the region on Thursday into Friday, with the potential for another wintry mix event by the end of the week over some interior locations of the Northeast.
"The Philadelphia area will fluctuate between two distinctly different air masses throughout this week into the weekend. This will cause temperatures to shift from day to day, with high temperatures ranging from the middle 40s to lower 50s. Even though meteorological winter has begun, several days will feel more like mid-November, rather than early December.”
The New York ISO is forecasting increasing peak power loads (see related story). Peak load Wednesday of 20,822 MW was expected to rise to 21,109 MW Thursday and 21,014 MW Friday.
IntercontinentalExchange reported next-day peak power at the ISO New England's Massachusetts Hub jumped $15.16 to $53.71/MWh. Peak power at the PJM West terminal rose by $4.14 to $41.52/MWh.
Appalachia and Marcellus points also registered gains. Next-day gas on Millennium rose 19 cents to $2.74, and gas on Transco Leidy jumped 19 cents to $2.40. Gas on Tennessee Zone 4 Marcellus added 15 cents to $2.13, and packages on Dominion South gained 17 cents to $2.85.
Once away from the Northeast, a different price picture emerged. Losses of a dime or more were common as moderating temperatures west of Chicago were forecast. AccuWeather.com forecast that Chicago's high of 35 Wednesday would ease to 33 Thursday before recovering to 37 on Friday. The normal high in the Windy City in early December is 40. Omaha’s Wednesday high of 37 was predicted to reach 42 Thursday and 44 by Friday. The seasonal high is 39. Denver's 48 high on Wednesday was seen jumping to 57 on Thursday and settling in at 54 Friday, 10 degrees above normal.
Midwest and Rockies prices slumped. Gas on Alliance fell 22 cents to $3.75, and packages at the Chicago Citygates eased 23 cents to $3.72. Gas on Consumers was quoted 23 cents lower at $3.80, and deliveries on Michcon changed hands 22 cents lower at $3.81. At Demarcation, gas came in down 23 cents at $3.72.
Next-day deliveries on CIG fell 11 cents to $3.61, and gas at the Cheyenne Hub dropped 11 cents to $3.60. At the Opal Plant tailgate, Thursday gas was seen at $3.66, down 10, and Northwest Pipeline WY fell a dime to $3.64.
Futures traders are scratching their heads trying to determine the market's next move.
"Every weather forecast we were seeing two weeks ago was calling for colder weather and the market is up a dime, or 15 cents," said a New York floor trader. "But how many weather forecasts can there be in a 24-hour period, and how can the weather change by 20 degrees 20 days out?
“Everyone was following them saying 'we are going to $5.00' but here we are at $3.75. My guess is we have come a long way and may bottom another dime lower, and in the next two weeks the range will be $3.70 to $4.00. If we get a forecast for much more warmth we could trade down to $3.55 or $3.60, but I think we will bottom out over the next few days."
Recent warmth is expected to rattle through Thursday's Energy Information Administration (EIA) inventory report. Last year a bone-rattling 141 Bcf was pulled from storage, and the five-year pace is for 50 Bcf. For the week ended Nov. 28, IAF Advisors predicts just 23 Bcf was withdrawn and ICAP Energy sees a pull of 30 Bcf. A Reuters poll of 23 traders and analysts resulted in an average 41 Bcf with a range of 23 Bcf to 60 Bcf.
Longer-term weather forecasts continue to get warmer. MDA Weather Services in its morning 11-15 day forecast on Wednesday said the “already warm forecast” from Tuesday was trending significantly warmer on Wednesday.
“With troughing expected to dominate the northern Pacific, a broad upper-level ridge is expected across the central U.S., leading to above-normal temperatures across most of the country. The strongest warmth will be focused across north-central areas, with much-aboves now expected for the period as a whole in the Midwest.
"Given the strong Pacific flow across the U.S., significant cold threats are very limited. Strong model agreement leads to increased confidence in the very warm forecast."
WeatherBELL Analytics in its Wednesday morning 20-day Energy Outlook expects for the next two weeks an accumulation nationally of 334.9 heating degree days (HDD), well above last year's 270.2 HDD but fewer than the 30-year average of 352.6 HDD.
Analysts saw Tuesday's weakness as a continuation of moderating forecasts and revisions to the storage surplus. "The natural gas market extended its recent decline on Tuesday as the temperature outlook continued to trend warmer, with below-average heating demand and below-average storage withdrawals likely through the first half of December," said Citi Futures Perspective’s Tim Evans Tuesday.
If market bulls were looking for Thursday's storage report to stop the hemorrhaging, that is unlikely, according to Evans. The EIA storage report Thursday “seems unlikely to change the price dynamic, with the early consensus pointing to 49-50 Bcf in net withdrawals, very similar to the 50 Bcf average for the date. Our own model produced a comparable 47 Bcf result. While neutral compared with the five-year average, the larger context suggests last week was just a transitional period between the average drop in storage in the prior period and the bearish storage comparisons likely in the weeks ahead."
Evans calculates that by Dec. 19, the year-on-five-year average storage deficit will be 264 Bcf.
"This declining surplus -- a function of both limited demand and robust supply growth -- confirms the market is becoming better supplied on a seasonally adjusted basis. At the same time, we also note that winter isn't over, and at some point a cycle of colder temperatures will likely send prices climbing again, creating at least an echo of November's bullish price action."