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NatGas Cash, Futures Climb, But Don't Call It A Comeback

Following the across-the-board drubbing physical natural gas market values took on Thursday for Friday through the weekend delivery, trading on Friday for Monday flow scored healthy gains across the nation except for a few outliers in the volatile Northeast.

NGI's National Spot Gas Average added 16 cents to $2.17, while the March natural gas futures contract sparked higher as well, adding 11.6 cents on Friday to $2.298, which represents a 15.7-cent increase over the contract's previous Friday finish.

Friday's futures gain marked the eighth consecutive regular session increase for front-month futures, which runs back to the last week and a half of the February contract's reign. However, traders warned that it might not be the bull call it appears to be at first glance.

"I have not heard anything specific behind Friday's run-up," David Thompson, vice president at Powerhouse LLC, a Washington DC-based trading and risk management firm, told NGI. "The larger than expected storage draw was 24 hours prior and we had no great shakes around the middle of the day on Friday when they update the weather models. Instead, it was a slow and steady advance all of the way from 8 a.m. in the morning. It never got too far ahead of itself, and on the chart it was a nice 45-degree angle on the way up."

Thompson said the rally began around Christmas, but all of it has been on noticeably declining open interest. "A rally on declining open interest tends to mean that's shorts buying back some of their positions. I wouldn't put a whole lot of stock into this as fresh buying coming in. Volume has also been diminishing over the last few weeks for the most part, so there has been no new fresh buying coming in on this rally."

Most gains in the physical market on Friday closely mimicked the losses recorded Thursday. Down along the Gulf Coast, the Henry Hub added 13 cents to average $2.25 for Monday delivery, while the Houston Ship Channel picked up 16 cents to average $2.23. Gains in the Rockies and California were a bit larger -- mostly in the 20-30 cent range as a chill was expected along the West Coast early next week. The Cheyenne Hub and CIG added 24 cents and 31 cents, respectively, to each average $2.19, while in California, the PG&E Citygate and SoCal Citygate increased by 17 cents and 23 cents to average $2.51 and $2.48.

While most points in the east posted gains of between a nickel to a dime, a handful of Northeast/Mid-Atlantic locations accounted for the only red on the national map on Friday. Algonquin Citygate, which marches to the beat of its own drum due to the isolated natural gas infrastructure situation in New England, dropped 20 cents to average $2.34. The other declines were linked to Marcellus Shale points, which suffer from supply gluts and transmission bottlenecks. Transco Zone 4 Marcellus and Transco Zone 4 313 Pool declined by 7 cents and 8 cents, respectively, to average $1.24 and $1.33. Transco-Leidy Line Line also slipped 2 cents to average $1.27.

With winter 2015-2016 more than halfway complete, industry consultant Genscape Inc. reports that the Southeast and Mid-Atlantic (SEMA) region are seeing nominations to power plants outpace nominations to citygates by 5.5%. "This trend bucks a long standing pattern whereby citygate nominations overtake power plant nominations at the beginning of each winter," according to Genscape's Rick Margolin, senior analyst, natural gas. "In many ways, this is an extension of the overall growth trajectory of the region: In the summer of 2014, power demand grew heavily with a 66% jump in power plant nominations compared to the previous summer. Simultaneously, demand at citygates fell off by 35%. As a result, power nominations overtook citygate nominations."

In Genscape's Natural Gas Basis commentary on Friday, Margolin noted that this trend continued in the winter of 2014/2015, with nominations to power plants growing by 15% compared to the previous year, but "not enough to unseat citygates as the proverbial King of the Mountain. Summer of 2015 saw more of the same as power demand grew by another 20% while citygate nominations grew at a mere 3%."

Looking to the current season, power is currently on pace to grow by 11% according to Genscape data while citygates seem to be shouldering the brunt of the demand slowdown, currently down an average of 22% compared to last year.

"In total, SEMA is seeing a slight downturn in demand, with overall consumption down 4.9% from an average of 15.8 Bcf/d of consumption last winter to 15.1 Bcf/d this winter," according to Margolin. "Looking forward to next week, a warming trend over the weekend should put temperatures above average for this time of year. However, as the week progresses, another cold front could potentially drive temperatures into the 25 HDD range, creating bullish demand in the 19-20 Bcf/d range like last week."

Revisiting Thursday's natural gas storage report for the week ending Jan. 22, which revealed the season's first 200-plus Bcf withdrawal, analysts with Tudor, Pickering, Holt & Co. (TPH) on Friday attributed the 211 Bcf draw to colder than average weather.

"Back-to-back strong absolute draws bring storage overhang down into the historic range," TPH said. "However, like last week, the market on a weather-adjusted basis showed only 3 Bcf/d undersupplied, which is well shy of the impressive 5 Bcf/d undersupply situation in late December. Spot price moved down to $2.2/MMcf/d from $2.4/MMcf/d the previous week, but it didn’t seem to impact gas-generation market share, at least for last week. We continue to look for a 5 Bcf/d undersupply through withdrawal season to clean-up the El Nino-induced storage overhang before the end of season. Of course colder than normal weather also works."

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