Cash natural gas prices for Thursday delivery scooted higher Wednesday as traders in eastern and Midwest markets adjusted to a cooler change in the weather regime that is likely to last to the end of the month.
Overall, the market advanced a nickel to $2.43, but the day’s biggest advances were saved for New England, the Marcellus and the Mid-Atlantic. Futures prices languished within a 7 cent range as traders squared positions ahead of Thursday's Energy Information Administration (EIA) inventory report.
At the close, May had added 3.1 cents to $2.606, and June was up 3.4 cents to $2.654. June crude oil fell 45 cents to $56.16/bbl.
A significant drop in temperatures was all that was necessary for buyers on New England pipes to spring into action. Next-day prices rose well over a dime in the Northeast, and AccuWeather.com forecast that Boston's Wednesday high of 67 would plunge to 54 Thursday and Friday, 4 degrees below the normal high. New York City's 69 maximum reading on Wednesday was seen dropping to 54 Thursday and Friday. The seasonal high in New York City is 64.
Gas at the Algonquin Citygates added 17 cents to $3.57, and deliveries to Iroquois Waddington rose 10 cents to $3.01. Deliveries to Tennessee Zone 6 200 L gained 30 cents.
Marcellus prices also firmed. Deliveries to Millennium added 16 cents to $1.27, and gas on Transco Leidy added 26 cents to $1.38. Tennessee Zone 4 Marcellus prices gained 11 cents to $1.14, while packages on Dominion South were quoted up 18 cents to $1.69.
Great Lakes points were not able to enjoy a spring-like Wednesday, and temperatures were forecast to hover a good 10-15 degrees below normal through the end of the week. AccuWeather.com predicted the high Wednesday of 48 in Chicago would warm to only 52 Thursday and 53 Friday; the normal high is 62. Detroit was expected to see a 43 high on Wednesday reach 48 Thursday and 52 on Friday. The normal late April high in Detroit is 59.
Gas on Alliance gained a penny to $2.69, and deliveries to the Chicago Citygates rose 2 cents to $2.67. At Demarcation, gas for Thursday delivery rose 4 cents to $2.58, and packages on Northern Natural Ventura added 4 cents as well to $2.59.
After a period of above-average temperatures dominated most of the Midwest and Northeast during much of April thus far, a complete reversal in the weather pattern is evolving this week," said AccuWeather.com meteorologists. According to Long Range Expert Paul Pastelok, "a southward dip in the jet stream will develop and will be centered across the Great Lakes much of the time during the latter part of the month. The upper-level storm associated with this surge of cool air will stall across Ontario for the week. This will send waves of cool air from the Midwest to the Northeast into the weekend."
Next-day prices in the Gulf of Mexico (GOM) inched higher in spite of increased production.
Industry consultant Genscape Inc. reported this week that natural gas from the “Lucius and Hadrian platforms offshore Gulf of Mexico appears to be [reaching] the Discovery Gas Transmission Mainline. The Mainline point is that system's lone receipt point.
“Receipts there had averaged 148 MMcf/d month-to-date, then spiked on Friday to 492 MMcf/d, and have been averaging 488 MMcf/d since. With the new receipts -- and maintenance wrapping up on Shell facilities -- Gulf of Mexico production is on the rise. Genscape's Spring Rock production estimate for the region reached 3,439 MMcf/d on Sunday, the highest single-day level for GOM production since last October."
Deliveries to the Henry Hub added 3 cents to $2.60, and parcels on Tennessee 500 L gained 2 cents to $2.55. Gas at Transco Zone 3 rose 3 cents to $2.56, and gas at Katy changed hands at $2.55, flat.
Futures traders were not impressed with the day's 3-cent advance.
"Volume was light at 65,000 contracts [May] so it was somewhat of a snoozer," said a New York floor trader at the close. There probably won't be much snoozing going on when the EIA reports weekly inventory changes at 10:30 a.m. EDT. "We are hearing in the low 90 Bcf range, and I believe that is already in the market. But if it's a much bigger build, which I can't foresee happening, we might test $2.50. We are not that far off.”
In a research report earlier this week, analysts with Raymond James and Associates admitted that their earlier price forecast was a little off, but that didn't change the framework of their analysis over the longer term.
"In January, we thought Henry Hub gas prices would average $3.00/Mcf for full-year 2015. This was 40 cents-plus below futures strip pricing at the time and was based on our expectation that supply growth would continue to meaningfully outpace demand growth.
"That thesis still rings true, and our changes to the price deck are marginal. Supply growth continued accelerating into the end of 2014, with EIA-914 data for December up a whopping 11 Bcf/d year/year [y/y] (including some liquids), and January was up 7 Bcf/d y/y. Despite colder than normal winter weather in 2014/15, supply growth has eliminated the storage deficit and created a 600 Bcf surplus.
"We expect the continuation of strong production to be the primary lever causing gas prices to drift even lower as 2015 moves along, in spite of a declining gas rig count (note, it's not falling as rapidly as the oil rig count)," the Raymond James analysts wrote.
"While coal switching has outpaced our model in early 2015, helping on the demand side, supply growth is winning the battle. Putting all this together, we are reducing our 2015 Henry Hub forecast from $3.00 to $2.80, with a bottoming in 3Q2015 at $2.55. In 2016, however, we project only 1-2 Bcf/d of supply growth, which, coupled with rising industrial demand and a small amount of LNG exports, would suggest gas prices should bounce back at least to the mid-$3 range by the end of 2016.”
Longer term, said the analysts, “it remains clear that producers can grow supply more than 5% annually (or over 3.5 Bcf/d) at gas prices below $4.00. Our 2016 forecast remains $3.55, and our long-term (2017-2020) forecast remains $3.75, though our bias on the long-term forecast is increasingly to the downside."
In the near term, market technicians see the market's ability to hold above $2.50 as encouraging, but have yet to be convinced that any move higher is on the table. According to Brian LaRose, market technician at United ICAP, the market would have to exceed $2.759-2.777 on a closing basis for "us to get more excited about long positions once again."