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NatGas Cash Traders Unimpressed With Surging Power; Futures Falter

In spite of power load forecasts calling for huge increases Tuesday in eastern markets, spot natural gas for the extended holiday weekend skidded as traders decided to make any necessary spot purchases over the weekend instead of commit to a four-day deal.

Declines of a nickel to a dime or more were widespread. Futures fared no better. At the close, June was down 6.2 cents to $2.887 and July had fallen 7.5 cents to $2.919.

Power loads and prices soared, yet there was no impact on weekend and Monday-Tuesday gas. Intercontinental Exchange reported that peak power Tuesday at ISO New England's Massachusetts Hub jumped $17.26 to $44.74/MWh and peak power for Tuesday delivery to the PJM West Hub vaulted $44.37 to $76.96/MWh.

Power loads were forecast higher as well. The New York ISO forecast that peak load Saturday would reach 15,935 MW and peak load Sunday was expected to climb to 16,361 MW. By Tuesday, however, the ISO forecast peak load at a whopping 23,725 MW.

Traders were not impressed with the higher loads and prices. "Everyone just keeps track of the weather, and if power generators need more gas they will just buy it over the weekend, with a cellphone if necessary," said a New England marketer. "I'm sure that in Tuesday's trading we will see prices a lot higher, but right now people are just putting gas in storage. We'll see much stronger prices next week. They can't get much weaker."

The marketer was not optimistic about stronger cash quotes going forward. "There's a lot more transportation starting up in the next six months. There's not much more moving east, most of it is moving to Chicago."

Gas at the Algonquin Citygates fell 52 cents to $1.62, and deliveries to Iroquois Waddington shed 37 cents to $2.69. Gas on Tennessee Zone 6 200 L fell 28 cents to $1.93.

Parcels on Millennium changed hands a penny lower at $1.34, and gas bound for New York City on Transco Zone 6 was off 15 cents to $1.97.

Gas at major hubs fell by double digits. Deliveries to the Chicago Citygate skidded 11 cents to $2.83, and gas at the Henry Hub fell a nickel to $2.88. Packages on El Paso Permian changed hands 11 cents lower at $2.54, and deliveries to the SoCal Citygate plunged 15 cents to $2.85.

Futures traders said the day's decline was gradual. Likely no stop-loss orders went off, and "we are now in alignment with a $2.75 to $3.00 trading range," said a New York floor trader. "These lower settlements below $3 signal somewhat of a bearish sentiment. We haven't been able to settle over $3 except on three occasions, and $3 looks like solid resistance."

Analysts see the market as having an overall bearish tonality with an eventual test of recent lows in the $2.50 range. "Although this market managed to respond to a supportive storage injection of 92 Bcf, the inability to maintain early gains above the $3.00 mark keeps this market vulnerable to fresh lows during the next couple of sessions, in our opinion," said Jim Ritterbusch of Ritterbusch and Associates.

"The 92 Bcf supply hike was proximate to our supply expectations and narrowed the deficit against five-year averages only slightly by about 6 Bcf to 35 Bcf. Some renewed price weakening would appear likely tomorrow ahead of a holiday weekend that will be reducing industrial demand. However, short-term one- to two-week forecasts are still maintaining a bullish hue with above-normal temperatures expected along the Eastern Seaboard.

"All in all, we will look for support to hold at the 2.90 level during [Friday's] trade, while we expect some renewed selling next week into the $2.82-2.90 zone, with the market gradually ratcheting on down to around the $2.50 area. We are maintaining a bearish trading bias for now and would use any price rallies toward today's highs as fresh selling opportunities."

Others don't see the market working that low. Tom Saal, vice president at FC Stone Latin America LLC, in his work with Market Profile expects the market to test Thursday's value area at $3.003 to $2.949. It "could test the 50% breakdown target at $2.855. Market should stay above the 'intermediate term' mode at $2.786. Look to buy on any weakness," he said in a Friday morning note to clients.

Buyers tasked with purchasing gas for power generation across the PJM footprint over the extended weekend are not likely to have much in the way of wind generation to offset purchases. WSI Corp. in its morning outlook said, "A cold front is expected to sweep across the Mid Atlantic today with just a slight chance of an isolated shower or storm. This will likely usher high pressure into the power pool during the next couple of days. This should lead to seasonably cool temperatures with highs in the 60s and 70s. Lows may dip into the upper 30s, 40s to mid-50s. High pressure will slowly slide off the East Coast during Sunday into early next week.”

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