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Strong Dollar Slowing Industrial NatGas Demand? Futures Take Monday Off

Physical natural gas for delivery Tuesday managed to inch higher in uninspired trading Monday, as traders cited a dearth of activity and pointed out that although weather systems were active, they were more concerned with temperature changes.

Overall the market added 7 cents to $2.32 with the Gulf, Midcontinent and Midwest regions mostly unchanged, the Northeast higher by 20 cents and the Rockies and California up less than a dime. Futures trading was equally lackluster. May settled unchanged at $2.511 and June slipped 1 cent to $2.548. May crude oil added 27 cents to $51.91/bbl.

Midwest prices moved little as temperatures were forecast to be pleasantly above normal. Wunderground.com forecast that Monday's high in Chicago of 67 was expected to ease to 61 Tuesday and 60 Wednesday, 2 degrees above the seasonal average. Minneapolis was expected to see its high of 61 Monday reach a comfortable 71 Tuesday before sliding to 65 on Wednesday. The normal high in Minneapolis is 54 this time of year.

Gas on Alliance for delivery Tuesday was flat at $2.50 and parcels on ANR SW also were flat at $2.23. Gas at the Chicago Citygates changed hands at $2.51, up 3 cents and deliveries on Consumers came in 2 cents higher at $2.72. Deliveries on Michcon rose a penny to $2.70.

Traditional movement of physical gas from the Gulf to the Midwest has changed in favor of the Midcontinent and Rockies. "No Gulf gas. Midcon gas is making it on pipes like ANR SW and Panhandle as well as REX [Rockies Express] is coming across," said a Chicago Citygate marketer based in Houston.

"You have to have transport to move it from REX to the [Chicago City] gate. REX does not deliver to the majority of the Citygates."

He added that he wasn't having much luck moving gas from the Marcellus, but "some of the shippers I buy from may be moving gas from the east, but I don't have the capacity and there is no excess.

"The Louisiana market is also a home and just as strong as the Chicago market, Michcon and Consumers command a premium, but you have to get on the other pipes such as Tennessee that may pull Marcellus gas. The ANR's and Panhandle and those that service Michcon and Consumers are full," he said.

Northeast prices proved to be the day's greatest gainers as power loads were forecast to rise. ISO New England forecast that peak load Monday at the Massachusetts Hub of 14,800 MW was forecast to rise to 14,890 MW Tuesday before subsiding to 14,700 MW Wednesday.

Tuesday gas at the Algonquin Citygates rose 85 cents to $3.44 and deliveries to Iroquois Waddington added 9 cents to $2.78. Parcels on Tennessee Zone 6 200 L gained 33 cents to $2.94.

Gulf gas moved at about the same pace as Midwest deliveries. Deliveries on ANR SE fell 2 cents to $2.44 and gas on Transco Zone 3 was unchanged at $2.49. At the Henry Hub Tuesday gas was quoted at $2.56, up a penny, and gas at Katy changed hands at $2.53, up 4 cents.

Market observers following flow data see lower industrial demand, possibly tempered by a rising dollar. "There are early indications for April that the growth in industrial demand for natural gas is slowing down, albeit slightly," said industry consultant Genscape in a report. "Weather adjusted industrial demand for April is up about 0.5 Bcf/d YOY. This would be a slight YOY slowdown compared to Jan-15 and Feb-15. Industrial demand is sensitive to HDDs during the winter, and CDDs during the summer. Whether this is a one month temporary blip [lower] or a lasting trend remains to be seen until the monthly DOE [Department of Energy] data comes out at the end of June for what the data actualizes for April. Industrial demand is difficult to track as much of it is on intrastate pipelines in Texas and Louisiana. Intrastate pipeline data is not publicly available, thus the market has to rely on monthly DOE data in order to finalize the data.

"The market in general has been estimating very strong and robust growth in industrial demand for natural gas due to relatively low prices of the commodity in the US compared to the rest of the world. However, one factor that might slow down industrial demand for natural gas may be the strong and upwardly trending U.S. dollar, as evidenced by the UUP exchange traded fund. Many heavy industrial demand users of natural gas such as petrochemical plants and fertilizers rely on exports for much of their revenue. Due to this reliance on exports, they are naturally short the US dollar because higher dollar prices relative to the rest of the world makes their products more expensive to foreign customers."

Analysts looking at supply-demand balances are standing aside the market for now but are prepared to strike quickly to initiate a long position. Tim Evans of Citi Futures Perspective sees this week's storage build report at 42 Bcf, greater than historical averages, and by April 24, the year-on-five year deficit has fallen to 98 Bcf. "A declining storage deficit shows the market becoming better supplied on a seasonally adjusted basis, which tends to reduce the market's upside potential and keeps the downside open, most often correlating with lower prices over the intermediate term," he said.

Market technicians see a case for sharply lower prices. "From the Elliott Wave perspective, for natgas bulls it is $2.476 support or bust. And the bust is a $1.590 to $1.430 target range," said Walter Zimmermann, vice president at United ICAP. "For those who think this is an unrealistically bearish downside target, I would point to the major collapses already suffered by propane, ethane, butane and most recently, LNG. Maybe natgas holds $2.476 and rebounds. If it does, it will then need to better $2.965 for the bulls to have any case.

"Averaging the years 1992 through 2014 yields an average winter-to-spring rally as a 57% gain in spot contract value from an 11th February low to an 11th May peak. Here we are on 13th April and the bulls have nothing to show. Zero bounce. In the markets what fails to go up typically goes down. However, natgas has been just as unable to sell off as it has been to rally. Both bulls and bears have been equally frustrated; still see significant downside on a decisive weekly close below $2.476."

Despite the case for lower prices, risk managers are standing aside. "Natural gas closed lower on the week, making lows not seen in almost three years," said Mike DeVooght, president of DEVO Capital. "Natural gas continues to be pressured by more than adequate supply. This week's EIA storage number was looking for a build of 10 Bcf, and got a build of 15 Bcf. Even though rig counts continue to drop, wells continue to be completed and production continues to increase. On a trade basis, we continue to stand aside at this time."

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