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NatGas Cash, Futures Dance Lower; May Loses 4 Cents

Natural gas for delivery Wednesday gave ground in mixed trading Tuesday as gains in California, the Rockies and Midcontinent were unable to offset slumping Northeast and Gulf Coast quotes.

The NGI National Spot Gas Average shed 8 cents to $1.87, and eastern prices, on average, lost close to 30 cents. Frustrated futures bulls were dealt another setback as what looked like a promising start to the week with May trading as high as $2.074 Monday gave way to nearly a nickel loss. At the close, May had fallen 4.4 cents to $1.954 and June was down 4.0 cents to $2.050. May crude oil rose 19 cents to $35.89/bbl.

Although spot prices in New England eased in Tuesday's trading, a force majeure on Tennessee was a healthy component in fueling quotes at the Algonquin Citygate, which soared close to $3 Monday. Industry consultant Genscape Inc. said, "TGP declared a force majeure at Station 261 outside Agawam, MA, upon discovery of issues requiring immediate engine repairs.

"The notice said flows could be restricted upwards of 100 MMcf/d. In response, both Granite State and Algonquin pipelines made note of potential flow restrictions due to the force majeure. The event comes as a third punch to Algonquin basis as New England and Appalachia demand are rising to their highest levels since February with a late winter cold blast, and New England import capacity on Algonquin is restricted due to planned maintenance at the Stony Point compressor.

"Algonquin basis tacked on another $2.92 to close at $3.78 following the force majeure declaration and anticipation of demand peaking in the market today with the coldest temperatures since late February," Genscape said.

In Tuesday's trading, New England quotes softened as next-day power quotes provided a disincentive to make incremental purchases for power generation. Intercontinental Exchange reported that on-peak Wednesday power at the ISO New England's Massachusetts Hub fell $4.01 to $45.20/MWh. On-peak power at the PJM West terminal skidded $5.01 to $32.89/MWh.

Gas for Wednesday delivery at the Algonquin Citygate dropped $1.46 to $4.26, and gas at Iroquois, Waddington was quoted 25 cents lower at $2.42. Gas on Tenn Zone 6 200L changed hands $1.89 lower at $4.50.

Gas on Texas Eastern M-3, Delivery was quoted 24 cents down at $1.55, and packages bound for New York City on Transco Zone 6 fell 4 cents to $1.97.

Forecast temperatures in the East were expected to gravitate toward seasonal norms. AccuWeather.com predicted that Boston's Tuesday high of 35 degrees would rise to 40 by Wednesday and 54 on Thursday. The seasonal high in Boston is 52. New York City's high Tuesday of 40 was seen making it to 44 Wednesday and 56 by Thursday. The normal high in New York is 58 at this time of year.

Prices at major trading hubs were mostly lower. Deliveries to Dominion South tumbled 14 cents to $1.48, and gas at the Chicago Citygate fell a nickel to $1.96. Parcels at the Henry Hub were quoted 3 cents lower at $1.91, but gas on El Paso Permian rose by 7 cents to $1.74. Gas priced at the SoCal Citygate rose 2 cents to $1.97.

Futures traders were not impressed with the day's settlement. "This is not a good close, and I don't see a reason it wouldn't fail tomorrow," a New York floor trader said. "I think some of the late longs probably bailed today, but if it breaks $1.93, I think it will trade into the mid $1.80s."

Analysts see changing weather forecasts adding a bullish tonality to the market. "This market continues to exhibit resiliency in the face of a massive storage level as a result of additional updates to the short-term temperature views that are showing extension of cold April patterns out to about the 19th of this month," said Jim Ritterbusch of Ritterbusch and Associates in a Tuesday morning note to clients.

"These unseasonably cold trends are forcing some significant revisions to April storage injections that will be relieving some pressures from the large storage factor. Although we have suggested that below-normal temps during April don't pack much punch as far as HDD accumulation is concerned, deviations from normal with extension out well into the third week of this month has apparently forced some additional speculative short-covering that was already in progress. Furthermore, some of the longer-term outlooks are leaning in favor of a hot summer that would boost electric generation demand in helping to eat away at the large supply overhang."

With Monday's failure up against $2.08, and settle below $2.01 the bullish technical case was looking a little weak. "Things looked promising for the bulls early on," said Brian LaRose, a technical analyst with United ICAP. "However, by the end of trading a shooting star top was visible on the daily candlestick chart -- not what one wants to see when a market is attempting an upside breakout. But bulls are not dead yet.

"To derail the case for a continued march higher, bears need to crack $1.965-1.957. Until then, the trend is up; recommend a defensive stance," he said in closing comments to clients.

Spot market traders in eastern markets likely had their hands full as Monday's storminess gave way to below-normal temperatures. The National Weather Service said, "Below-average temperatures expected today for much of the eastern U.S. [as] Cold high pressure will build into the eastern third of the nation this morning as low pressure pulls away from the Northeast into the Atlantic Ocean.

"A few snow showers may linger across Cape Cod this morning, but those will quickly come to an end. Otherwise, the eastern U.S. will remain dry and cold today, with afternoon high temperatures expected to be 10 to 20 degrees below average."

Tom Saal, vice president at FCStone Latin America LLC in Miami, in his work with Market Profile was looking for the market to inch higher before working lower. "Look for the market to test [Monday's] value area at $2.048 to $2.008 then test $1.958 to $1.928. Maybe" the market will test $1.913 to $1.859."

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