With the exception of a few constrained northeast points bidweek quotes had the trajectory of a safe falling from a ten story building. Declines were broad and pervasive across nearly every market point, and the NGI National Bidweek Average fell a stout 29 cents to $2.07.
There were a few positives, but those were the result of numerous restrictions on Algonquin Gas Transmission at points such as the Stony Point, Cromwell and Southeast compressor stations. Of the actively traded points Algonquin Citygate saw the largest gain, $1.35 to $4.87 and at the low end bidweek buyers on Consumers Energy enjoyed a decline of 55 cents to $2.34.
Regionally the Northeast on average enjoyed the greatest gains of 21 cents to $2.07. South Louisiana came in at the bottom with a drop of 53 cents to $1.97.
South Texas and East Texas each shed 51 cents to $2.00 and $1.98, respectively. The Midcontinent skidded 43 cents to $2.04 and the Midwest dropped 43 cents to $2.35.
California came in 42 cents lower at $2.31 and the Rocky Mountains fell 41 cents to $2.00.
November futures expired Wednesday at $2.033, a hefty 53.0 cents less than the October contract expiration.
In spite of free-falling bidweek quotes, most avoided the temptation of buying aggressively in hopes of picking a market bottom or trying to time the first arrival of true winter weather. Limited storage also was a factor. "People just buy based on historical demand needs and patterns as well as growth patterns they have," said a Houston-based pipeline veteran.
"[Utilities] will make some calculations on what kind of heating degree days they expect. If you think Nymex will go up, then just buy the Nymex, but if you think physical prices might go up and you have the storage, you would load the boat and push off. I imagine there is some of that going on."
"If there is an incentive to take a position, then I am sure someone is doing that. LDCs aren't incentivized to do anything like that. It's more likely a well-financed big boys game," he said.
Such a strategy would have worked handsomely, albeit briefly, last year. According to the NGI Historical Data Base, Henry Hub November 2014 bidweek finished at $3.77, and by bidweek December 2014 Henry Hub had jumped 52 cents to $4.29. Beyond December, however, gains were elusive. January Henry Hub bidweek finished at $3.19, and February bidweek came in at $2.87.
Marketers found themselves having to juggle a wide range of pricing options for bidweek. "We triggered some deals on Consumers and Michcon at 34 cent basis, but with the Nymex settle [$2.033] we paid $2.373," said a Michigan marketer. "Those were a lot better than earlier deals we had done at $2.75."
November futures settled at $2.033 Wednesday and by Friday December futures had ended the week down 17.2 cents to $2.321. A healthy chunk of that decline came Thursday with the Energy Information Administration (EIA) reporting a storage injection of 63 Bcf, about 6 Bcf less than the consensus. Prices rose momentarily. At the close, however, December was down 4.1 cents to $2.257 and January had shed 3.8 cents to $2.423.
Observers pointed out that were it not for some heating demand in the East, the injection report could have been considerably higher. Last year 88 Bcf was injected, and the five-year average stands at 73 Bcf. For the week ended Oct. 23, IAF Advisors was calculating a 67 Bcf build and Ritterbusch and Associates looked for a 76 Bcf injection. A Reuters survey of 21 traders and analysts revealed a sample mean of 69 Bcf with a range of 62-85 Bcf.
After the EIA reported the 63 Bcf injection in its 10:30 a.m. EDT release, December futures rose to a high of $2.372, and by 10:45 a.m. December was trading at $2.355, up 5.7 cents from Wednesday's settlement.
We had heard a build of 69 Bcf to 68 Bcf, somewhere in there," said a New York floor trader. "For support you've got to be $2.25 on the downside in the December and $2.50 on the upside."
Analysts see the supply-demand balance firming, at least a little. "The 63 Bcf build for last week was the second consecutive bullish-side miss versus expectations, suggesting that the background supply/demand balance may be firming," said Tim Evans of Citi Futures Perspective. "However, the market still faces upcoming warm weather that will translate into more robust injections, with the total still on track to clear 4.0 trillion cubic feet to set a new record."
Inventories now stand at 3,877 Bcf and are 409 Bcf greater than last year and 153 Bcf more than the five-year average. In the East Region 33 Bcf was injected, and the West Region saw inventories increase by 7 Bcf. Stocks in the Producing Region rose by 23 Bcf.
Not all futures traders Friday were buying the notion that the technical gap left on the daily charts by the expiration of the December contract, the rollover gap, is going to be filled. "Just look at today's trading," a New York floor trader told NGI. "We settled at up 6 cents, and volume in the December was 165,000, and that's a big number. You can see how aggressively traders brought the price up. I think you will see buying come in around the $2.18 level, but you have to look at support near term at $2.25."
As weak as the market appears, analysts don't see another test of Tuesday's November contract lows ($1.948) any time soon. "The December futures are posting new lows this morning in keeping this bear market much alive," said Jim Ritterbusch of Ritterbusch and Associates in a Friday morning note to clients. "However, we still don't expect the December contract to test the pre-expiration November futures lows of $1.95 despite the fact that mild temperature views are beginning to stretch toward mid-November.
"We feel that the weather-induced likelihood of a 4 Tcf supply peak has been discounted and that above-normal temperature trends will need to see extension well into the third week of next month if nearby gas futures are to push much lower. Forcing prices down at this late stage of the shoulder period is usually challenging given winter weather uncertainties."
Market technicians see December futures having to make Herculean strides in order to keep the market from trending lower. Brian LaRose, a market technician at United ICAP, said he has a number of bearish models but only one bullish model. In order to validate the bullish model "bulls would need to push natural gas up and over $2.441 and $2.723. For the 12-month strip, both $2.765 and $2.958 would need to be exceeded. As long as natural gas (and the 12-month strip) remains beneath these levels, the trend will continue to point down. End of story," he said in closing comments Thursday.
Until Friday's trading for weekend and Monday deliveries, spot gas at most points did not have to suffer the indignity of trading below $2, as November futures did prior to expiration on Tuesday. That all changed with natural gas traded for the weekend and Monday.
Traders had no desire to commit to three-day deals looking down the barrel of a mild temperature forecast. Only two points followed by NGI failed to record a double-digit loss, and the NGI National Spot Gas Average swooned 24 cents to $1.90. Futures prices rebounded as December managed a gain of 6.4 cents to $2.321 and January added 6.7 cents to $2.490. December crude oil added 53 cents to $46.59/bbl.
The Midwest was hit as hard as anywhere, with the region taking about a 30-cent hit from Thursday's trading. By Monday, temperatures were forecast to be above seasonal norms, and AccuWeather.com forecast that Chicago's Friday high of 56 would ease to 54 before jumping 11 degrees on Monday to 65, 8 degrees above normal. New York City was expected to see its Friday peak of 59 ease to 55 Saturday before making it to 63 on Monday, 4 degrees above its seasonal average.
Gas for delivery on Alliance tumbled 27 cents to $2.08, and deliveries to the Chicago Citygate slumped 28 cents to $2.06. On Consumers, next-day gas was seen at $2.16, down 26 cents, and gas on Michigan Consolidated fell 27 cents, also to $2.16. Parcels on Northern Natural Ventura changed hands 26 cents lower at $2.03.
Physical gas at the Henry Hub came in at $1.94 and like futures, it was the lowest point since April 2012. Other major hubs were on the skids as well. Gas at Opal was quoted at $1.93, down 16 cents, and gas at the SoCal Border Avg. fell 24 cents to $1.96. Gas on El Paso Permian fell 25 cents to $1.78.
In the Northeast, in spite of hefty restrictions, prices at the Algonquin Citygate tumbled nearly $1. Algonquin Gas Transmission reported 100% restrictions in and around its Stony Point, Oxford and Hanover compressor stations as well as its interconnect with Tennessee at Mendon. Only primary, firm, no-notice nominations would be accepted, the company said on its website.
Gas at the Algonquin Citygate plunged 99 cents to $4.83 for Sunday and Monday packages, and deliveries to Iroquois, Waddington fell 26 cents to $2.42. Gas on Tenn Zone 6 200L shed 47 cents to $4.40.
Gas buyers for power generation across the broad MISO footprint should have plenty of renewable energy to work with over the weekend. In its Friday morning report WSI Corp. said, "High pressure will briefly slide across the power pool [Friday], but the next frontal system will spread a round of showers across the region today through Saturday. Fair weather and a significant warming trend are expected during Sunday into early next week across the majority of the power pool. A southerly flow will push temperatures into the upper 50s, 60s to 70s by Monday and Tuesday.
"Light wind generation will persist this morning. However, the frontal system will cause wind gen to ramp up later today through Saturday. A developing southeast wind will continue to support elevated wind gen through early next week. During this period, output will peak upward of 6-8 GW."