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$2.50 In Sight, Trader Says; March Called 2 Cents Lower

March natural gas is expected to open 2 cents lower Friday morning at $2.58 as technical traders anticipate the market reaching lower price objectives and the broader weather picture calls for warming. Overnight oil markets gained.

Like many analysts, Ritterbusch and Associates came in on the high side of Thursday's 115 Bcf storage withdrawal reported by the Energy Information Administration (EIA). "[Thursday's] 115 Bcf storage withdrawal per the EIA was far removed from our expected 129 Bcf draw. However, the figure reinforced our bearish inclinations and significantly upped the likelihood of a near-term run at our targeted $2.50 area," said Jim Ritterbusch, president of the firm, in closing comments to clients on Thursday.

"[Thursday's] release narrowed the long-standing supply deficit against five-year averages to a mere 29 Bcf in hiking the odds of a surplus being established by month's end," he said. "Impetus behind the smaller than expected draw continued to be a stronger than expected production pace in which normalized temperature trends are proving to be a much greater factor than a drop in the rigs. Meanwhile, adjustments to the short-term temperature views have been relatively minor all week, and even a sustained spot of arctic air will likely be unable to spur much of a price advance.

"Given the market's proximity to our targeted $2.50 level, we will await weather-induced price rallies before approaching the short side. While [Thursday's] EIA report may have pushed our preferred $2.80 entry point out of reach, we would await price rallies toward prior day highs as a minimum before establishing new short positions. Finally, we will note the establishment of a decided contango within the March-April 'widow maker' spread that will be further encouraging entry into the short side by the speculative community as well as producers looking to hedge off a larger portion of future production."

Gas buyers for the weekend and Monday will be confronted with a choice of whether to buy weekend packages in preparation for temperatures predicted to be well below normal in several regions of the country, or to punt and rely on spot purchases as needed.

Kari Strenfel, a meteorologist at Wunderground.com, forecasts that "[a] cold front will dip south southeastward over the northern Plains and the upper Midwest. Energy moving across the northern Rockies will bring a chance of snow showers to the northern Plains. Light snow showers will also develop ahead of this frontal boundary over parts of the upper Midwest, the Great Lakes and the Northeast.

"Additionally, temperatures are forecast to be 10 to 20 degrees below normal across the lower Great Lakes and the eastern Ohio Valley. High pressure will bring a calm weather pattern to the central and southern Plains, the middle and lower Mississippi Valley, the Gulf Coast, the Deep South and the Mid-Atlantic."

Forecasters also see elevated wind generation in association with the cold front. WSI Corp. said in its Friday morning report the broad MISO footprint could experience "a southwest wind around departing high pressure and ahead of another cold front...lead[ing] to partly cloudy skies and much warmer, above average temperatures [Friday] into Saturday. However, the aforementioned cold front and ripple of low pressure may slowly sag southward as the weekend progresses with a chance of light rain, snow and/or mix. This will also allow some colder air to slowly bleed back into the power pool by the start of next week.

"An Alberta Clipper-like system will begin to track into the north-central U.S. during Tuesday with a chance of snow. This will likely be the harbinger for some much colder air by the middle to end of next week. A variable, diurnally influenced wind will support periods of elevated wind generation during the next two to three days. Output may occasionally top out near 7 GW. Wind generation may subside late Sunday into Monday, but the clipper may cause generation to improve during Tuesday."

In overnight Globex trading March crude oil rose $1.21 to $51.69/bbl and March RBOB gasoline gained 3 cents to $1.5535/gal.

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