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Strong East, Mid-Atlantic, California NatGas Carry The Day; Futures Retreat

Strong eastern and California markets were able to outweigh weakness in the Midwest and Midcontinent in next-day gas trading Monday. Eastern points were still feeling the effects of searing heat and humidity from the weekend, and most locations weren't expected to see any relief until at least Wednesday.

Overall, NGI’s National Spot Gas Average added 5 cents to $2.65. Futures traders were looking down the pike and finding some attenuation in the outlook from Friday when forecasts were calling high pressure and its attendant heat and humidity to dominate key populations centers. At the close, August had surrendered 4.7 cents to $2.823 and September was down 4.4 cents to $2.830. August crude oil tested important support at $50 when it traded as low as $49.85, but finished down 74 cents at $50.15/bbl.

Temperatures in Boston and New York were forecast to ease slightly, but high heat indexes looked to keep power requirements stout. Forecaster AccuWeather.com predicted that Boston's high of 91 Monday would slide to 88 Tuesday before dropping to 81 on Wednesday. The normal high in Boston is 82 in mid July. New York City's Monday maximum of 94 was expected to decline to 90 on Tuesday, but when adjusted for humidity the temperature is 94. Wednesday was anticipated to fall to 84, the seasonal high.

New York’s Consolidated Edison reported about 20,000 customers lost power on Staten Island Monday afternoon in heat-related power outages. Customers in Brooklyn and Queens also were urged to conserve power. Con Edison also was asking customers in midtown west to conserve energy while company crews work to repair equipment problems. The company reduced voltage by 8% in the midtown area as a precaution to protect equipment and maintain service as repairs are made.

Gas at the Algonquin Citygate jumped $1.50 to $3.91, and gas on Iroquois Waddington added 8 cents to $3.11. Deliveries to Tennessee Zone 6 200 L jumped $1.31 to $3.69.

Next-day price moves in the Mid-Atlantic couldn't quite match those of New England. Gas on Tetco M-3 gained 4 cents to $1.42, and gas bound for New York City on Transco Zone 6 gained 48 cents to $2.98.

Next-day power prices made gas buying an easy choice in New England, slightly less so in the Mid-Atlantic. Intercontinental Exchange reported that peak next-day power at the ISO New England's Massachusetts Hub rose $5.53 to $48.31/MWh, yet parcels at the PJM West Hub fell $7.53 to $47.67/MWh.

Power loads were also forecast to remain elevated at least until Wednesday. ISO New England predicted that Monday's peak load of 24,300 MW would decline to 22,750 MW Tuesday before dropping further to 19,800 MW Wednesday. At the PJM West Hub peak loads Monday of a hefty 55,396 MW were forecast to drop to 53,718 MW Tuesday and plunge to 47,220 MW Wednesday.

Farther west, next-day gas prices eased. At the Chicago Citygate, next-day gas went for $2.85, down 6 cents, and gas at Northern Natural Ventura was off by 3 cents to $2.80.

Peak load at the CAISO Sunday reached about 35,000 MW, but Monday's peak was forecast at a toasty 40,823 MW before easing to 38,006 MW Tuesday.

Gas at the SoCal Citygate for Tuesday rose 8 cents to $3.14, and deliveries to SoCal Border added 6 cents to $2.94.

Futures traders see the market drifting lower. "Right now, natural gas is against key support levels at $2.81 to $2.83," a New York floor trader said at the close. "It traded below that level today, and it looks like the market has no staying power. Unless some crazy news comes out tonight, it will probably drift lower again.

"If it breaks down below $2.63 to $2.65, it may get another leg down, but otherwise it will bounce off that and start to work back up again," he said.

Commodity Weather Group in its Monday morning six- to 10-day outlook said, "A key test from over the weekend was passed as the effort to shift heat ridging back toward the West Coast late in the 11-15 day on Friday moved forward into the front half of that period over the weekend into [Monday]. This shift adjusts the Midwest and East in a cooler direction overall and contributes to some of the demand losses in today's outlook.

"Another demand loss contributor, though is a stronger-than-expected cool trough that cuts into the Midwest and East middle to late this week before lingering along the East Coast (as a cool wedge risk) this weekend into maybe even early next week (especially for the Northeast). Texas heat is on schedule, with last Friday's forecast with near 100 F in Dallas and mid-upper 90s in Houston. The Southeast shifts cooler, though, with more rain chances and the main heat concerns directed more toward the Tennessee Valley and Deep South areas instead," said Matt Rogers, president of the firm.

In the six- to 10-day period, cooler temperatures may prevail, but in the near term, cooling load is expected to be stout, according to National Weather Service (NWS) figures. For the week ending July 25, NWS forecasts that New England will see 70 cooling degree days (CDD), or 25 more than normal. New York, New Jersey and Pennsylvania should endure 75 CDDs, 16 more than normal, and the greater Midwest from Ohio to Wisconsin should swelter through 74 CDDs, or 16 greater than its seasonal norm.

Mike DeVooght, president of DEVO Capital, a Colorado-based trading and risk management firm, said, "On a trade basis, it's difficult to make a case for a significant move, either up or down, in the gas market at this time. We will continue to stand aside and await future developments." He suggested that trading accounts, end-users and producers stand aside the market for now.

Tom Saal, vice president at FC Stone Latin America LLC, in his work with Market Profile said, "A general rule in Market Profile is that the market (aka participating traders) wants to test the prior period's value area. This rule can assist participating traders in their hedge trading decision-making in different time frames. The 'daily' time period can be expanded to 'weekly' and 'monthly' time dimensions."

Saal expects the market to test last week's value area at $2.889 to $2.835 before moving on and "eventually" testing a second value area at $2.762 to $2.670.

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