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Weather, Power Make Weekend Packages A Tough Sell; Futures Grind Lower

Traders took a look Friday at weather outlooks for the weekend into Monday as well as spot power prices and for the most part decided to pass on purchasing much in the way of three-day packages when any needed gas can usually be purchased via convenient electronic communications.

Weekend and Monday quotes took the biggest dive in New England and the East, with losses above $2 common. The Gulf was down about a nickel, and the Midcontinent, West Texas, and Rockies were off about a dime. Overall, the market fell 35 cents to $2.59. Futures fared little better, with March falling 2.1 cents to $2.579 and April sliding 1.2 cents to $2.602. March crude oil managed a gain of $1.21 to $51.69/bbl.

Gas for delivery in the Northeast plunged as Monday peak power prices careened lower. Intercontinental Exchange reported that peak power Monday at the New York ISO Zone G terminal (eastern New York) tumbled $30.42 to $34.58/MWh and Monday peak power at the ISO New England's Massachusetts Hub shed $17.27 to $77.89/MWh. Peak power at the PJM Interconnection's West Hub dropped $11.80 to $33.47/MWh.

Gas at the Algonquin Citygates for weekend and Monday delivery was seen $2.71 lower at $8.65, and gas at Iroquois Waddington skidded $2.33 to $4.41. Packages on Tennessee Zone 6 200 L fell $2.41 to $8.37.

Gas bound for New York City on Transco Zone 6 fell $2.66 to $3.47, and deliveries to Tetco M-3 fell $1.49 to $2.45.

Marcellus points took lesser hits. Gas on Millennium shed 20 cents to $1.39, and gas was quoted at Transco Leidy 16 cents lower at $1.27. On Tennessee Zone 4 Marcellus points, gas changed hands at $1.21, down 19 cents, and packages on Dominion South fell 7 cents to $1.99.

Eastern points were expected to see a warming trend over the weekend. AccuWeather.com reported that Boston's Friday high of 21 degrees was expected to rise to 30 Saturday and reach 33 by Monday. The seasonal high in Boston is 37. New York City's Friday maximum of 25 was forecast to jump to 38 Saturday and climb further to 40 on Monday. The normal early February high in New York is 40. Philadelphia's Friday peak of 32 was seen reaching 43 by Saturday and 42 on Monday, 2 degrees above normal.

The trend of warmer temperatures is expected to be even more pronounced farther west. AccuWeather.com meteorologist Brian Lada said, "While the calendar may read early February, it will feel more like early May across the Plains through the weekend and into the start of next week. This translates to highs 20 to 30 degrees above normal. The warmest air will focus on a zone stretched from western Texas through eastern Colorado where highs are forecast to climb into the 70s each day through Monday, [and] some areas in this zone could even top out above the 80-degree mark on Saturday.

"Some warmth will spill into the Southeast, Ohio Valley and the southern part of the mid-Atlantic region as well. Highs in this area will generally range from the 50s to the 60s. Sunshine and near-record warmth will continue to eat away at the snow cover across the Plains, which is already running below normal for this time of year. This is partly due to the mild pattern that closed out the month of January. By the end of the weekend, much of the Plains could be left with little to no snow on the ground."

Gas for the weekend and Monday in the Midwest firmed, and quotes in the Gulf were seen lower. Deliveries on Alliance added 3 cents to $2.66, and packages at the ANR Joliet Hub came in 4 cents higher at $2.65. Gas at the Chicago Citygates fell 3 cents to $2.59, and quotes on Michcon added a penny to $2.70.

On ANR SE, gas for weekend and Monday delivery shed a nickel to $2.51, and packages at the Henry Hub fell 8 cents to $2.55. Gas on Florida Gas Transmission Z3 was seen off by 6 cents to $2.56, and at Katy parcels were quoted at $2.43, down 4 cents.

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."

In early physical trading, gas buyers for the weekend and Monday were 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, forecast 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."

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