Natural gas for delivery Tuesday managed to hold steady in Monday trading as declines in the Northeast were just able to offset broad-based gains at most market points.
The NGI National Spot Gas Average was unchanged at $1.70, but spot prices in the Northeast on average took a hit of 15 cents or more. Anomalous, mild temperatures were forecast throughout the East, with some points plummeting $1 or more. Futures managed a technical rebound which traders see continuing for a few more sessions. At the close January jumped 14.4 cents to $1.911 and February added 11.8 cents to $1.987. January crude oil expired at $34.74/bbl, up 1 cent.
Analysts are looking to shut-ins and the power sector as a remedy for the thin, weather-driven withdrawals such as the 34 Bcf pull seen last week. "That's the concern is that you continue to see those types of numbers," said Tony Scott, analyst with Lakewood, CO-based BTU Analytics.
"To correct the 34 Bcf withdrawal from last week, what you need are either producer shut-ins or significant power burn response in the market. When we look at the power side of the equation, you are at the point of incentivizing generators that run even PRB coal to look at natural gas as a replacement. We know that we will see continued gas-fired generation where there is some switching ability into gas into 2016, and that will actually provide a kind of surprise as generators make that decision that will be a sustaining decision.
"There's the ability to hedge and they will probably buy for some fixed amount of time whether it’s six months or 12 months in the gas curve and run those generators for a while. That will start to chew into the overhang and conversely at these prices you are at shut-in economics in a lot of areas.
"Until a well really goes negative cash flow and negative on a truly variable basis, you won't see operators shutting in a lot of gas wells, and that sets up 2016 where it could be extremely challenging because you don't have the balance sheet to shut in gas nor do you have the actual financial drive to shut in wells," said Scott.
Forecasters looking to the end of the month are calling for a cool West and moderate East. In its Monday morning report WSI Corp. said, "[Monday's] six-10 day period is several degrees cooler across the Plains and East, yet a few warmer over the West when compared to Friday's forecast. GWHDDs are up +5.8 to 106 for the period. Forecast confidence is considered above average due to excellent agreement between the models throughout the period.
"Temperatures could run a few degrees warmer over the East during the latter half of the period under a re-developing upper-level warm ridge forecast to build in across the Northeast."
GWHDDs may be up for the six- to 10-day period, but near term, the National Weather Service (NWS) forecasts sharply reduced HDDs and heating requirements for the populous East and Midwest. For the week ending Dec. 26, NWS expects New England to see just 147 HDDs, or a whopping 113 below normal, while the Mid-Atlantic should experience only 125 HDDs, or 116 below its seasonal tally. The greater Midwest is expected to have 140 HDD, or a stout 133 below its norm.
Risk managers are cautious and see no reason to enter the market, short or long. Mike DeVooght, president of DEVO Capital, a Colorado-based trading and risk management firm, counsels trading accounts, end-users and producers to stand aside.
"Natural gas closed lower on the week and at new contract lows. Natural gas traded below $1.80, a level not seen since 1999. The weekly storage draw was higher than anticipated, but still disappointing for this time of year. The news remains the same: moderate weather, flat demand and more than adequate supplies continues to pressure the gas market," he said in a weekly report to clients.
In the physical market forecasts of temperatures expected to be greater than 20 degrees above normal weighed mightily on Northeast and East pricing. AccuWeather.com predicted the high Monday in Boston of 53 would rise to 56 Tuesday and 55 Wednesday. The normal high in Boston in mid-December is 39. Philadelphia's Monday peak of 55 was expected to rise to 62 by Tuesday and 65 by Wednesday, 22 degrees above normal.
Gas at the Algonquin Citygate tumbled $1.33 to $1.59 and deliveries to Dominion South were seen at 77 cents, down 24 cents.
Other trading points firmed. Deliveries to the Chicago Citygate rose 7 cents to $1.86, and gas at the Henry Hub was unchanged at $1.70. Deliveries to El Paso Permian added 7 cents to $1.72 and gas at the PG&E Citygate was quoted at $2.51, up 8 cents.
Soft power pricing was not particularly encouraging of incremental gas volumes for power generation. Intercontinental Exchange reported that Tuesday peak power at the ISO New England's Massachusetts Hub fell $6.68 to $23.93/MWh and peak power at the PJM Interconnection's Western terminal for Tuesday delivery dropped $3.10 to $25.85/MWh.