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NatGas Physical Prices Enjoy Broad Advance, Yet Futures Fumble

Next-day physical natural gas traded higher in Tuesday's trading as soft pricing in New England was outdone by gains at Gulf Coast, Midwest, Rockies and California points.

Few locations traded in the red, and NGI‘s National Spot Gas Average added 3 cents to $2.52. October futures were unable to add to Monday's gains. At the close, October had ceded 3.0 cents to $2.728 and November had shed 2.8 cents to $2.800. October crude oil gained 59 cents to $44.59/bbl.

Next-day gas in the Northeast floundered as on-peak power prices offered little incentive to make incremental purchases. Intercontinental Exchange reported that on-peak Wednesday power at the ISO New England's Massachusetts Hub fell $1.18 to $33.25/MWh.

Gas for delivery at the Algonquin Citygate shed 40 cents to $1.93, and gas on Tenn Zone 6 200L was quoted 12 cents lower at $1.99.

Iroquois Pipeline by virtue of not having interconnects with gas-rich Marcellus and Utica points enjoyed the region's highest quotes. Deliveries to Iroquois, Waddington advanced 13 cents to $3.10 and Iroquois Zone 2 ended up 8 cents to $3.10.

By contrast, Marcellus points were steady to nominally higher. Gas on Millennium rose 3 cents to $1.29, and packages on Transco-Leidy Line added 8 cents to $1.22. On Tennessee Zone 4, Marcellus next-day parcels came in at $1.24, unchanged, and gas on Dominion South changed hands at $1.27, also unchanged.

"Nothing on Tennessee [Marcellus, Utica, et al] can get into Iroquois. There are no interconnects," a Houston-based industry veteran told NGI. "People on Algonquin have probably slowed down what incremental volumes they are taking, or it's being served from the north on pipelines like Maritimes and Northern."

He said the higher prices on Iroquois were being driven by pricing on Consumers, Michigan Consolidated and Dawn. "There probably isn't all that much trading going on on Iroquois. Their power plants are pulling what they need to, but they aren't going out and necessarily buying on the market. The market is already out there and they have gas already locked in," he said.

Gas on Consumers was quoted at $3.12, up 6 cents, and deliveries to Michigan Consolidated were seen 6 cents higher as well to $3.07. Gas at Dawn traded 6 cents higher at $3.15.

In the Mid-Atlantic, next-day gas was steady to higher as next-day peak power offered a firm foundation to make incremental purchases. Intercontinental Exchange reported that on-peak next-day power at the PJM West Hub rose $4.40 to $37.21/MWh.

Gas on Texas Eastern M-3, Delivery shed a penny to $1.36, but packages headed for New York City on Transco Zone 6 gained 47 cents to $2.55.

At this time of year, natural gas prices have often put in a seasonal bottom, and Monday's 6.5-cent rise was enough to pique the interest of market technicians thinking that what amounted to a three-week high might be enough to fire up a seasonal move. For the moment, however, that concept is on the back burner.

"Have the seeds for a seasonal cycle advance been sowed?" said Brian LaRose, a market analyst with United ICAP. "This is the time of year where we are typically looking for an average increase in spot value of 103%. From the recent $2.624 low, a gain of 103% would target $5.326. Before we are even willing to entertain such a march higher this year, bulls first need to clear $2.881. Expect the consolidation to continue if the bulls can not get the job done," he said in closing comments Monday.

Hamilton, NY-based weather trader Bespoke Weather Services said, "Natural gas prices rose approximately 2.4% through the day [Monday] as a wave of buyers broke us through $2.735 resistance. We saw an impressive 11,000-plus October contracts traded in just 15 minutes as we broke through that resistance, and we gave back very little into the end of the day. Overall, more than 132,000 contracts have been traded as of 3:10 p.m. EDT, which is significantly above average volume when compared to the last few weeks. This had all the looks of a breakout..."

Fundamental analysts see a near-term weather/storage dynamic in play that could keep the drive alive. "This market's approximate 7-cent advance thus far this week may not be substantial within historical context, but it is significant in percentage terms of almost 3%," said Jim Ritterbusch of Ritterbusch and Associates in a Tuesday morning note to clients. "Bullish impetus appears driven by warm updates to the short-term temperature views per adjustments during the past weekend. Although CDD accumulation is seeing seasonal downsizing, warmth in most regions appears sufficient to reduce injections to below-normal trends within upcoming weekly EIA releases out to the beginning of October. This week's report could also offer a smaller than usual injection, given the fact that Labor Day developed later than usual."

If this is a breakout, it is going to have to endure a not-so-favorable near-term weather outlook. "[Tuesday's] six-10 day period forecast is cooler, or not as warm as yesterday's forecast, over a good portion of the central and eastern U.S.," said forecaster WSI Corp. in its Tuesday morning report. "The West is warmer. PWCDDs are down 3.3 to 27.1. Forecast confidence is average today as models have wavered a bit with the details of the PNA [Pacific North American] driven pattern. Technical and timing differences emerge as the period progresses.

"The Interior West and central U.S. have a risk to the warmer side, while the Northwest and Southeast have a risk to the cooler side."

For the moment the breakout is not to be. "Prices worked lower towards the end of the session and couldn't get over $2.75 and settle over that," said a New York floor trader. "I think people are still just playing the range. I guess this is profit-taking. Weather-wise we are not seeing all that much."

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