Natural gas for delivery Thursday was able to partially offset the double-digit losses early in the week as the market Wednesday was aided by a firm screen, supportive next-day power prices, and some Northeast transportation issues.
All points rose with the exception of a few thinly traded Gulf locations, and the overall gain was 13 cents to $2.57. Futures managed gains as traders factored in somewhat cooler temperatures for next week and prepared for another triple-digit withdrawal from storage. Estimates of the Energy Information Administration’s (EIA) storage report scheduled for Thursday circulated in the low 190 Bcf range, but traders said a withdrawal above 200 Bcf might prompt some short term buying.
At the close, April had risen 9.2 cents to $2.824, and May was up 8.7 cents to $2.850. April crude oil fell 12 cents to $48.17/bbl.
Gains in the Northeast of $1 or more were aided and abetted not only by the firm screen but also by a strong next-day power environment. Intercontinental Exchange reported that peak power Thursday at the ISO New England's Massachusetts rose $8.79 to $44.99/MWh, and peak deliveries to the PJM West Hub added $2.45 to $33.91/MWh. However, next-day peak power at the New York ISO's Zone G (eastern New York) delivery point fell $4.30 to $40.20/MWh.
Loads were also expected to rise. ISO New England reported that peak load Wednesday of 16,110 MW was anticipated to increase to 16,580 MW Thursday before easing Friday to 16,300 MW. Likewise, the New York ISO said Wednesday's peak load of 19,204 MW was expected to reach 19,339 MW Thursday before going into the weekend Friday at 18,951 MW.
Thursday deliveries to the Algonquin Citygates gained $1.90 to $4.97, and gas on Iroquois Waddington added 39 cents to $3.32. Tennessee Zone 6 200 L gas traded $1.66 higher at $4.71.
In the Mid-Atlantic and Marcellus, double-digit gains were common. Gas headed for New York City on Transco Zone 6 gained 17 cents to $2.75, and deliveries to Tetco M-3 were quoted 28 cents higher at $1.84.
Millennium gas for Thursday was seen at $1.45, up 8 cents, and deliveries to Transco Leidy added 10 cents to $1.40. Packages on Tennessee Zone 4 Marcellus changed hands 21 cents higher at $1.40, and gas on Dominion South came in 25 cents higher at $1.67.
Tennessee Pipeline reported scheduling and capacity issues in the Northeast. On its website it said operating capacity on a crossover pipeline taking gas from northern Pennsylvania to Station 237 in upstate New York had 800,000 Dt/d operating capacity and total scheduled capacity of 960,157 Dt/d.
An industry pipeline veteran said of the apparent discrepancy, "it looks like people are still nominating a bunch of gas from the cheaper areas of the pipe to take advantage of the pricing. [Tennessee] Station 313 is a major pooling point and it is cheaper than Station 219."
Producing zone gains more closely correlated with the gains in the April futures. Gas on Cheyenne rose 4 cents to $2.40, and deliveries to CIG Mainline gained a nickel to $2.35. Gas at Opal changed hands 6 cents higher at $2.42, and parcels on Northwest Pipeline WY rose 7 cents to $2.36.
At Malin, Thursday gas added 8 cents to $2.49, and deliveries to the PG&E Citygates rose a nickel to $2.97. At the SoCal Citygates, next-day deliveries were seen at $2.74, up 3 cents, and gas at SoCal Border points tacked on 7 cents to $2.56.
In spite of the day's higher screen, traders are looking lower.
"Any rallies here, it's just a sale," said a New York floor trader. "I think the top is between $2.85 and $2.90, and then we head back down to $2.60 again. There's plenty of gas out there and people are just waiting in the wings waiting to sell. Other than a few shorts who might get scared and push it up past $3, I think we are looking for a $2.60-2.90 market for the next few weeks."
If estimates of EIA’s storage report come in a little on the low side, a run at $2.60 may be in the cards. Last year a stout 189 Bcf was withdrawn, and the five-year average is for a 116 Bcf withdrawal. IAF Advisors calculated a pull of 198 Bcf, and Ritterbusch and Associates is looking for a 195 Bcf decline. A Reuters poll of 23 traders and analysts revealed an average 191 Bcf withdrawal with a range of 171 Bcf to 201 Bcf.
Brian LaRose, a technical analyst with United ICAP, expected no change in a market showing no trend.
There’s “only one way to salvage the case for a larger degree bottom developing here; bulls need to stage a reversal in front of the $2.567 low and shift the technicals in their favor. [That's] a tall order, to say the least. Fail to carve out a bottom in front of the $2.567 low and our minimum implied downside target becomes $2.257 as '1'='5' [wave pattern]. Clearly, it is bottom or else," he said Tuesday.
Weather forecasts were trending cooler. WSI Corp. in its morning six- to 10-day outlook said Wednesday’s six-10 day period forecast was colder “or not as warm as the past forecast due to the day shift. However, daily temps are not quite as cold, so period GWHDDs are down 3 to 90.6 for the CONUS. Forecast confidence is near average as medium range models are in reasonably good agreement with the changeable pattern and shift back to colder weather.
"However, there are plenty of technical differences as the period progresses. The risk is to the warmer side across the southern and eastern U.S. early next week. Otherwise, the risk and trend may be to the colder side across the eastern two thirds of the nation as the period progresses."