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Broad Gains Outdone by Eastern Declines; Futures Add a Dime

Physical natural gas for delivery Wednesday was mixed in Tuesday's trading, as stout declines at Northeast points were able to dominate with lesser gains in the Gulf, Rockies, Midwest, Midcontinent and California. Overall, NGI’s National Spot Gas Average shed 14 cents to $3.30.

New England, New York, and the Mid-Atlantic saw a softer power pricing environment in spite of the ravages of blizzard conditions, while load patterns were mixed. Futures moved in the opposite direction, with traders focusing on a cooler tonality to the near-term outlook and options trading ending with the February settlement just under the $3.00 strike.

At the close, February had gained 10.0 cents to $2.981 and March was higher by 8.7 cents to $2.935. March crude oil gained $1.08 to $46.23/bbl.

From the Marcellus to New England, next-day prices dropped as a weakened power pricing environment made incremental purchases of natural gas for power generation less attractive. IntercontinentalExchange reported that peak Wednesday power at the ISO New England's Massachusetts Hub fell $9.27 to $86.42/MWh, and deliveries to the ISO New York Zone A (western New York) terminal fell $1.50 to $53.50/MWh. Packages of peak power deliverable to ISO New York Zone G (eastern New York) fell $5.00 to $90.00/MWh. At the PJM West terminal peak power Wednesday dropped $7.79 to $50.16/MWh.

Gas for delivery to the Algonquin Citygates fell $1.60 to $9.12 and packages at Iroquois Waddington skidded 87 cents to $7.65. Gas on Tennessee Zone 6 200 L retreated $1.25 to $9.04. In the Mid-Atlantic, gas bound for New York City on Transco Zone 6 fell $2.39 to $9.99, and packages on Tetco M-3 were quoted 91 cents lower at $5.99.

Marcellus points fared little better. Gas on Millennium for Wednesday delivery shed 13 cents to $1.17, and at Transco Leidy gas changed hands at $1.17, down 9 cents. On Tennessee Zone 4, Marcellus next-day deliveries slumped 15 cents to $1.12, and Dominion South came in 15 cents lower at $1.85.

Power loads were mixed in the Northeast. However, by Thursday loads are expected to lighten moderately. ISO New England's forecast peak load Tuesday of 19,400 MW was expected to increase to 19,700 MW Wednesday before easing to 19,030 MW Thursday. The New York ISO predicted peak load of 22,802 MW Tuesday was to drop to 22,636 MW Wednesday and slide further to 22,261 MW Thursday. Over the broad PJM footprint, peak load Tuesday of 42,017 MW was expected to rise to 42,871 MW Wednesday before sliding to 41,050 MW Thursday.

Northeast temperature patterns, while below normal, are seen rising through the week. Boston was expected to see 15 inches of snow, but Wunderground.com forecast that the high Tuesday of 18 would rise to 26 Wednesday and to 32 Thursday. The normal high is 36. Hartford, CT's 26 high on Tuesday was seen holding before reaching 32 on Thursday. The normal late-January high in Hartford is 36. New York City's Tuesday high of 28 was seen making it to 30 Wednesday and 36 Thursday; the normal high is 39.

According to the National Weather Service in southeast Massachusetts, the blizzard was seen winding down Tuesday evening across eastern New England.

"Other than a few ocean effect snow showers on Wednesday across the Cape and Nantucket...it will be dry and cold for the rest of the region as the cleanup begins. Plains low pressure will bring another chance for snow Thursday night and Friday. Dry but very cold air looks to follow for the weekend. A third storm may affect the region Sunday night and Monday."

In the Midcontinent and Rockies, prices generally firmed. Gas at the NGPL Midcontinent Hub added a nickel, while deliveries on ANR SW gained 2 cents to $2.64. Gas on NGPL TX OK added 3 cents to $2.80, and deliveries Wednesday to OGT fell 2 cents to $2.64. Gas on Panhandle Eastern was seen 3 cents higher at $2.64.

Gas at the Cheyenne Hub gained 5 cents to $2.64, and packages on CIG Mainline were seen 2 cents higher at $2.62. At Opal, gas for Wednesday delivery changed hands 5 cents higher at $2.68, and gas on Northwest Pipeline WY rose 4 cents to $2.61.

Weather models shifted to chillier overnight Monday and the market was able to maintain opening gains.

"Both the American and European ensembles saw more colder versus warmer changes overnight, thanks to the introduction of another Midcontinent cold push late in the six-10 day range that delays the warming trends in the 11-15 day," said Commodity Weather Group (CWG) in its Tuesday morning report. "This is an interesting shift because the Canadian ensembles already had this concept" Monday. "There were also some colder changes in the Northeast at times thanks to an impressive snow pack interacting with pulses of Arctic air.

"The 11-15 day is still warmer overall than the six-10 day, but collectively not as warm as seen" on Monday, "with still considerable cold risks offered in the front half of the period by the American and to some extent Canadian ensembles. The upper level pattern becomes extremely complicated by mid to late 11-15 day with the European ensembles split almost 50-50 between some lingering colder weather and a warmer pattern returning inside February's second week," said CWG President Matt Rogers.

Analysts saw Monday's retreat as a function of weather developments, but otherwise expect trendless trading for the next couple of days. Monday's "big 3 1/2% selloff appeared related to some bearish adjustments in the short term temperature forecasts during the past weekend," said Jim Ritterbusch of Ritterbusch and Associates in closing comments to clients. "However, we are still not seeing any broad based warming trends capable of sustaining [Monday's] losses.

"We feel that a sharply downsized withdrawal will be seen that could potentially narrow the deficit against five-year averages by more than 50 Bcf. And, although the jury is still out as far as a strong consensus in next week's weather trends, the market appears to be discounting any arctic events. So, while we are maintaining a bearish opinion in quest of the $2.60 area, we will also restrict fresh shorts to price rallies to the $3.00 area or higher."

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