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NatGas Cash Gains 7 Cents, Futures Jump 9 Cents; May Back Over $2

Physical natural gas for Wednesday delivery gained ground in Tuesday's trading, led for the most part by a firm screen and supportive eastern power prices.

Weak Midwest pricing was countered by strong showings in the Rockies, Gulf of Mexico and Texas. The NGI National Spot Gas Average added a stout 7 cents to $1.86. Futures demonstrated even greater strength, with the May contract rising 9.2 cents to $2.004, and June gaining 8.2 cents to $2.083. May crude oil jumped $1.81 to $42.17/bbl.

Over the last three trading sessions, crude oil has added just under $5/bbl.

Northeast next-day power kept gas buyers on their toes as Intercontinental Exchange reported that on-peak power at the ISO New England's Massachusetts Hub jumped $11.01 to $40.86/MWh.

Gas at the Algonquin Citygate surged $2.29 to $4.58, and gas on Iroquois, Waddington gained 5 cents to $2.07. Deliveries to Tennessee Zone 6 200 L added a healthy $2.03 to $4.42.

In the Mid-Atlantic, next-day power was less robust and was reflected in spot gas pricing. Intercontinental Exchange reported that on-peak power Wednesday at the PJM West terminal fell $2.01 to $33.71/MWh.

Gas on Texas Eastern M-3, Delivery fell a penny to $1.64, and packages bound for New York City on Transco Zone 6 rose 9 cents to $1.77.

The experience of the Mid-Atlantic generally ran counter to the day's market trends. Rockies prices, on average, reached a new 30-day high at $1.69 with help from CIG DJ Basin and Questar.

In the Midcontinent, Enable East also set a new high while showing the largest gain in the region of 13 cents.

Higher gas prices in the Northeast may be a little hard to come by going into the weekend and next week as the region is expected to enjoy warmer temperatures by 20 or more degrees.

"High pressure taking up residence over the region is expected to promote a multi-day dry spell with high temperatures trending upward," said AccuWeather.com meteorologist Kristina Pydynowski.

"Residents will soon be trading heavy jackets, snow shovels and sleds that were used last weekend for sunglasses, t-shirts and grills. The recent string of baseball postponements and delays will end for games being played in the Northeast. Temperatures this weekend should surpass the chilly highs from last weekend by 20-40 degrees Fahrenheit. Sunday is shaping up to be the warmest day of the weekend.

"For places toward the coast, such as Boston, the warm-up will be slowed by a northeasterly wind blowing in off the chilly Atlantic Ocean. A similar effect will occur downwind of the Great Lakes.

"It is a whole different regime [that we are entering]. Recent weather systems have been moving along, so there was not more than a couple of dry days."

Analysts see unsupportive weather as largely factored into the market. "This market again spent the overnight session within a comparatively tight range as bearish weekend updates to the temperature views were quickly discounted via a 7-8 cent price drop at the start of the week," said Jim Ritterbusch of Ritterbusch and Associates in a Tuesday morning report to clients.

"From here, we see a couple more sessions of narrow range until Thursday's EIA guidance spikes volatility again. We feel that a single-digit injection that would compare with last year's 49 Bcf build and the five-year average hike of about 22 Bcf have largely been baked in. However, the market will remain sensitive to gradual production declines that are finally beginning to emanate from the dramatic plunge in rig counts during the past couple of years.

"While an argument can be made that production declines will be required during the next six months in order to preclude storage overcrowding, we still see declining output as a limiter on downside price possibilities going forward through the shoulder period.

"[W]e are having difficulty building a strong case for a price move of much more than 10-15 cents in either direction from current levels when looking out over the next couple of weeks. We still expect a potential weakening in the cash basis to force contango expansion, and we currently favor option strategies designed to capture premium in what could be a sideways trade that offers little price change a month or so down the road."

Weather is essentially a non-event, and market bulls are going to look elsewhere for fundamental price drivers. According to the folks at Natgasweather.com in a noon Monday update, "Overall, the coming weather pattern looks quite bearish, highlighted by continued milder trends for the weather system tracking across the Great Lakes and Northeast during the middle of this week. Specifically, milder temperatures are currently returning to the eastern U.S., while modest cooling pushes into the central U.S. as a cool front stalls over the southern Plains and South with heavy showers.

"[W]e continue to view weather sentiment as increasingly bearish, aided by milder trends and the continued loss of HDDs for the middle of this week. The pattern will become quite bearish next week where we expect it to hold through much of the second half of April besides nuisance weather systems that occasionally graze the far northern U.S."

Tom Saal, vice president at FCStone Latin America in Miami, in his work with Market Profile expected the market to test Monday's value area at $1.922 to $1.914 and to "then test" $2.010 to $1.990.

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