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Weekend, Monday NatGas Slumps; Futures Barely Budge

Weekend and Monday natural gas went begging in Friday trading as temperature forecasts remained moderate, making it less attractive for buyers to commit to three-day deals.

Declines were deep and pervasive. The East was down about 25 cents, the Midwest and Midcontinent fell close to a nickel, and California tumbled 8 cents. The overall market fell 8 cents to average $2.33.

Physical natural gas prices had some amount of direction, but that was not the case with futures. At the close, May was unchanged at $2.531, and June was down 0.1 cent to $2.568. June crude oil fell 59 cents to $57.15/bbl.

Baker Hughes in its weekly tabulation of rig count data showed a mixed picture with total U.S. rigs down on the week by 22 to 932 and lower year over year by 929. Gas rigs, however, showed an increase of 8 to 225, but remained well off the pace of a year ago when 323 were operating. Horizontal rigs, the kind most typically associated with the active shale plays, fell 21 to 720.

Rig counts are often used as a proxy for future production, and market bulls point to the sharp declines in rig counts as ultimately being a market driver for higher prices. The problem, however, is timing, and the figures are often viewed with skepticism. In the words of one Miami-based broker, "I wouldn't trade your money with the rig count data."

A better proxy might be the number of wells awaiting connection.

An example that may give bulls pause for thought is data from the Ohio Department of Natural Resources. Industry consultant Genscape said, "There was a large movement of wells from Drilling to Drilled (inventory) status, with Antero completing 16 wells, American Energy completing 16 wells, Chesapeake completing four and Rex finishing up two wells. This is a total of 38 wells going into inventory in Ohio alone in the last week -- a significant uptick in activity feeding the size of the inventory pool, which stands at 380 wells across the state. A majority of this week's wells were completed in Noble County, which usually doesn't see this much activity from operators."

Gas for weekend and Monday delivery at eastern points fell as power loads were projected sharply lower. ISO New England forecast that peak power Friday of 14,130 MW would drop to 13,160 MW Saturday before rising to 13,550 MW Sunday. The New York ISO estimated Friday's peak load of 18,064 MW would fall to 16,590 MW Saturday and 16,357 MW Sunday.

Gas for weekend and Monday delivery to New York City on Transco Zone 6 fell 37 cents to $2.21, and parcels on Tetco M-3 were off 32 cents to a lean $1.58.

At the Algonquin Citygates, packages changed hands at $2.95, down 85 cents, and on Tennessee Zone 6 200 L was quoted at $2.93, down 67 cents.

Prices in the Midwest and Marcellus tumbled as temperatures were forecast to work toward seasonal norms. AccuWeather.com reported that the high Friday in New York City of 50 would reach 60 by Saturday and 58 on Monday. The normal high in New York in late April is 65. Chicago's Friday maximum of 58 was expected to fall to 49 Saturday and climb to 53 on Monday. The seasonal high in the Windy City is 63.

Deliveries on Alliance fell 3 cents to $2.61, and gas at the Chicago Citygates shed a penny to $2.60. Gas at Demarcation was seen lower by 6 cents to $2.46, and on ANR SW weekend and Monday packages fell 4 cents to $2.31.

Double-digit losses were common in the Marcellus. Gas on Millennium changed hands 2 cents lower at $1.27, but gas at Transco Leidy skidded 19 cents to $1.34. Gas on Tennessee Zone 4 Marcellus was quoted 14 cents lower at a thin $1.15, and on Dominion South gas came in 26 cents lower at $1.43.

In early bid week trading Algonquin Citygate basis was 22.5 cents under to 22 cents, and Dominion South basis was seen at $1.23 under to $1.20. Tennessee Zone 4 Marcellus basis was quoted at $1.56 under to $1.55 under.

According to early forecasts, the summer weather outlook appears mild. Teri Viswanath, director of natural gas strategy at BNP Paribas, noted that during recent weather discussions the "takeaway from the conference was that the early guidance suggested a mild summer ahead. This week's weather forecasts for May indicate that this outlook remains on track. The current 11-15 day forecasts reflect below-normal temperatures in Texas, a trend that is expected to persist through the month. As Texas typically accounts for 18% of total summer utility gas demand, a year/year reduction in cooling demand will likely require additional price-induced demand growth for balancing. Consequently, the prospect of mild weather ahead this summer will likely extend the discount window for natural gas prices."

WSI Corp. in its morning report said, "[Friday's] 11-15 day forecast is warmer than the previous forecast across the East but is not as warm over the central U.S. into the Rockies. Period GWHDDs are up 0.5 to 20.5 for the CONUS. PWCDDs are unchanged near 14.6. Forecast confidence is about average today as medium-range models are in reasonably good agreement with the large-scale pattern.

"The risk is to the cooler side across the West, especially California and the Southwest. The eastern two-thirds of the nation has an upside risk, focused over the Plains and Midwest."

Thursday's 7-cent drop following a modestly bearish EIA storage report did little to change the technical outlook. "Despite the slide, not much changes," said Brian LaRose, a technical analyst at United ICAP. "Bears still need to crack both $2.475 and 2.426-2.409 to signal the down trend is intact. Bulls need to push natgas above $2.655 and 2.759-2.777 to signal a bottom has the potential to take hold. In the meantime, we are stuck in neutral territory. Suggest sitting on our hands until we have some clarity," he said in closing comments Thursday.

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