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Northeast Losses Offset Gulf, Midwest Gains; Futures Drift Higher

Next-day gas for Wednesday delivery was weaker in Tuesday's trading, paced in large part by double-digit losses in New England. Small gains in the Gulf, Midcontinent, Midwest and Great Lakes were unable to counter Northeast declines, and overall the market fell 2 cents to $2.44.

Futures moved little following the opening of floor trading, and price movements were confined to a narrow 6-cent range. At the close, April had added 5.4 cents to $2.732 and May was higher by 5.0 cents to $2.763. April crude oil shed $1.71 to $48.29/bbl.

Prompt gas at eastern points fell as Wednesday peak power prices offered little incentive to buyers of gas for power generation to make incremental purchases. Intercontinental Exchange reported that peak power at the thinly traded New York ISO's Zone A Hub fell $61.00 to $31.00/MWh and peak power at the New York ISO's eastern Hub (Zone G) fell $5.50 to $44.50/MWh. At the ISO New England's Massachusetts Hub, on-peak power for Wednesday lost $7.09 to $36.20/MWh, and peak power at the PJM West terminal came in $4.62 lower at $31.46/MWh.

Wednesday gas packages at the Algonquin Citygates were quoted 93 cents lower at $3.07, and packages on Iroquois Waddington eased 36 cents to $2.93. Gas on Tennessee Zone 6 200 L fell 45 cents to $3.05.

In the Mid-Atlantic, price declines were not quite as steep as those in New England. Gas headed for New York City on Transco Zone 6 fell 7 cents, and gas bound for southeast Pennsylvania and New Jersey on Transco (non NY North) fell 6 cents to $2.60.

Marcellus points were off a few pennies. Gas on Millennium was flat at $1.37, and gas deliveries to Transco Leidy also came in unchanged at $1.30. Gas on Tennessee Zone 4 Marcellus fell 4 cents to $1.19, and parcels on Dominion South were seen 5 cents lower at $1.42.

Power loads for Wednesday were also expected to decrease. The New York ISO forecast peak loads Tuesday of 19,632 MW would fall to 19,272 MW Wednesday before recovering to 19,473 MW Thursday. Across the PJM footprint, peak load Tuesday of 36,762 MW was predicted to slide to 32, 354 MW Wednesday and then reach 34,366 MW Thursday.

Driving the prompt energy pricing matrix were forecasts of moderating temperatures. "Temperatures will peak on Wednesday over much of the Northeast, but they will continue to build in much of the north-central states through the end of the week," said AccuWeather.com meteorologist Alex Sosnowski.

"Highs are forecast to reach the 60s from New York City to Washington, DC, on Wednesday. The weather will deliver the highest temperatures since Christmastime in some cases. In parts of New England, temperatures will peak well into the 40s and lower 50s with the warmest conditions since January. A press of chilly air is forecast to dip into the Northeast states Thursday into Friday and will result in temperatures trending to near or slightly below average for the middle of March.

"Meanwhile, in much of the Midwest, temperatures are projected to remain well above average through the weekend. Highs will be well into the 50s, 60s and 70s in some cases. Temperatures will challenge record highs on one or more days over the northern Plains in Minneapolis; Omaha, NE; Rapid City, SD; and Des Moines, IA.

"Around Chicago, highs will be near or above 50 F through the weekend, [but] a farther-reaching and more substantial push of chilly air will spread out of central Canada and into the Midwest and Northeast during next week."

Gulf prices posted gains. Packages on Transco Zone 3 added 5 cents to $2.69, and gas on Columbia Gulf Mainline were seen 3 cents higher at $2.65. At the Henry Hub, gas changed hands a penny higher at $2.73, and at Katy Wednesday parcels rose 3 cents to $2.66.

Permian and San Juan gas was mixed. Deliveries on El Paso Permian fell 3 cents to $2.39, but gas on El Paso non Bondad was flat at $2.39. Packages on Transwestern San Juan added a penny to $2.40, but gas on El Paso S Mainline eased a penny to $2.50.

Gas buyers were likely factoring in load-killing rain into Tuesday's trading plans. According to forecasters, widespread rain is on tap. Kari Strenfel, meteorologist with Wunderground.com, said, "Expect more heavy rain to spread across the Eastern Valleys on Tuesday as a low-pressure system over the western Gulf of Mexico advances northeastward. Counter-clockwise flow around this system will continue pushing abundant moisture in from the Gulf of Mexico, allowing for moderate to heavy rainfall to develop.

"Expect heaviest rain to move through the mid-Mississippi River Valley and into the Tennessee and Ohio valleys, with widespread scattered showers developing from eastern Texas through the Virginias and southern New England late Tuesday night. Most areas will see rainfall totals ranging from a half of an inch to an inch, with isolated totals over two inches possible for parts of Arkansas, Tennessee and Kentucky.

"In the North, a strong low-pressure system moving through eastern Canada may push a few snow showers into the Great Lakes and extreme Northeast. Due to limited available moisture, only a dusting of snow is likely for these areas."

Temperature-wise Wunderground.com forecasted above-normal readings in major markets. Chicago's Tuesday high of 52 is expected to drop to 44 Wednesday before rising to 51 Thursday, 7 degrees above normal. New York's 50 high on Tuesday is seen advancing to 60 Wednesday before sliding to 52 on Thursday. The normal high in New York is 48.

Analysts are taking a hard look at the supply-demand landscape and revising price forecasts. Michael Cohen of Barclay's Bank said their price forecast "has been revised lower from $4.01 to $2.75 in 2015 due to more conservative assumptions concerning permanent coal-fired power plant retirements and a markedly higher gas production baseline for 4Q14 than previously forecast.

"Excess supply continues to steer the market lower. We expect natural gas prices to fall below $2.50 in 2Q15, ensuring that almost 6 Bcf/d of natural gas is used for power and that storage levels do not overshoot. Gas should thus be a more competitive alternative to cheap coal."

Top traders suggest holding on to any short positions. "[Monday's] heavy selling appeared to signal the end of an extremely cold February-early March period that took a large dent out of storage," said Jim Ritterbusch of Ritterbusch and Associates in closing comments Monday to clients. "Weekend updates to the one- to two-week temperature views that now extend into the official beginning of spring proved too bearish to ignore as above-normal temps appear widely disbursed across the country, with deviations from normal sizable through much of the Midcontinent. As a result, a large storage draw in this week's EIA [Energy Information Administration] report is being overshadowed by the expectation of some sharply downsized supply declines to be issued during the last half of this month.

"As a matter of fact, storage could see a bottom before the end of March in contrast to the usual tendencies for a trough in early April. The calendar is also working against this market as a possible shift back toward cool temperature trends won't be forcing much of an upswing in HDDs. [Monday's] price action reinforced our bearish stance and our expectations for a price decline to the $2.50 area. Any new shorts established late last week within the $2.80-2.88 zone would represent a hold."

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