Traders, by and large, elected to take a pass on three-day deals for natural gas deliveries over the weekend and including Monday.
Weather forecasts in pivotal population centers were forecast to dip but only down to seasonal averages. The NGI National Spot Gas Average fell 8 cents to $1.70 and broad losses in California, the Rockies, Midcontinent and Midwest were able to outdo double-digit gains in New England.
Futures settled mixed in an uneasy calm that has analysts examining still lower prices as 2015 draws to a close. January futures posted a new low at $1.684 before recovering to a modest gain of 1.2 cents to $1.767, and February shed four-tenths of a cent to $1.869. January crude oil retreated 22 cents to $34.73/bbl.
Market technicians looking for the slightest hint that the market may be stabilizing if not turning around see a glimmer of hope, albeit short-lived. "The only ray of hope I can find is we might see a little bit of a bear market correction to start off next week, but I wouldn't be holding my breath," Walter Zimmermann of United ICAP told NGI.
"Are there any candidates for major support before $1? The only candidates I could come up with is $1.59. That's a five-wave decline from the Polar Vortex peak of 2014 when natural gas popped to $6.49. That's the lowest price consistent with we are near a bottom and we are going to correct the whole move down from $6.49 before we go down to $1.
"It's a pivotal Elliott Wave target and it is well within reach for next week. If we get a weekly close below $1.59 it tells me we have a good shot at seeing $1 sooner rather than later. Natural gas traded at its all time low of $1.02 in January of 1992.”
The overall weather outlook has changed minimally in the big picture, although forecasters hint at variable factors in their forecast that lead them to tweak their demand models. "While the pattern is still clearly warm-dominated, with well below normal demand, we did see a tilt today -- for the first time in a few weeks -- that aimed to add some demand to our forecast," said Commodity Weather Group in its morning outlook.
"Slightly cooler short-term changes combine with more variability in the six-10 day and some slightly cooler changes late in the 11-15 day lead to an estimated demand adjustment today toward the positive side. A possible cool wedge on the East Coast the middle of the next week gives us additional caution, and a stronger cool front around Christmas offers to cool the following weekend a bit more.
"The models are also moving away from strong West Coast troughing by the 11-15 day, which 'eases up on the gas' on Eastern super-warm weather. This is not a significant pattern change, though, as well below normal demand continues to dominate the big picture. No significant blocking is indicated to deliver any sort of bigger cold concerns to the Midwest and East," said Matt Rogers, president of the firm.
Analysts see the ongoing increase in the supply surplus as the driving market factor near term.
"Near-record mild temperature trends that remain broadly based across the eastern two-thirds of the U.S. continue to force the front of the natural gas futures curve downward into 14-year low territory," said Jim Ritterbusch of Ritterbusch and Associates in a Friday morning note to clients.
"Although the upper Midcontinent is seeing some cool temps at the present time, with Canada looking a bit colder, the market appears focused on a renewed warm-up early next week with mild expectations now stretching into the new year in most cases. As a result, the dynamic of storage surplus expansion remains as a formidable bearish force that is keeping potential buyers sidelined in allowing values to draft on down into a price zone that seemed unimaginable a couple of months ago.
"Amidst this mild weather environment, we see additional downside pressures on Henry Hub spot pricing that could easily fall to around the $1.50 area. This will keep the carrying charges in expansionary mode in further emboldening existing speculative shorts who appear to be setting tight for now. So although today's COT [Commitments Of Traders] report will likely be indicating an increase in net non-commercial shorts toward our ‘red zone’ of two-to-one (shorts over longs), the possibility of a significant short-covering price rally still appears remote for now. With this in mind, we will continue to caution against attempts to pick a bottom to this market."
In physical market exchanges, gas for delivery in New England took a jump higher for weekend and Monday delivery as power prices proved supportive, but in the Mid-Atlantic gas was mixed as Monday power prices retreated. Intercontinental Exchange reported on-peak Monday power at the ISO New England's Massachusetts Hub vaulted $6.36 to $30.61/MWh and power at the PJM Interconnection's western hub fell $6.17 to $28.95/MWh.
Deliveries to the Algonquin Citygate rose a stout 56 cents to $2.92, and packages at Iroquois, Waddington gained 2 cents to $1.94. Gas on Tenn Zone 6 200L improved by 40 cents to $2.69.
Gas on Texas Eastern M-3, Delivery shed 16 cents to $1.11, but gas destined for New York City rose 6 cents to $1.80.
Near-term temperature forecasts called for cooler temperatures by Saturday, down to seasonal norms, and a return to warm temperatures by Monday. Wunderground forecast Philadelphia's Friday high of 52 degrees would drop to 42 Saturday before bouncing back to 55 by Monday. The seasonal high in Philadelphia is 42. Chicago's Friday high of 31 was seen rising to 33 Saturday and 46 by Monday, 12 degrees above normal.
Rockies quotes weakened. Gas at the Cheyenne Hub fell 3 cents to $1.70, and gas on Kern River changed hands 11 cents lower at $1.87. Gas at Opal lost a dime to $1.88, and packages on Transwestern San Juan plummeted 26 cents to $1.73.