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NatGas Cash, Futures Race Higher; May Adds 15 Cents

Physical natural gas for Wednesday delivery jumped Tuesday as a strong screen and a major pipeline outage in the Midwest prompted buyers to scramble for supply.

The NGI National Spot Gas Average jumped 16 cents to $1.82 as soaring prices in the nation's midsection lifted less enthusiastic points in Texas and the Northeast. Futures posted similar double-digit gains, with May adding 14.8 cents to $2.088 and June rising 14.3 cents to $2.188. May crude oil gained $1.30 to $41.08/bbl.

Deliveries at the terminus of Northern Border Pipeline just southwest of Chicago have been cut to zero, and that has forced gas buyers to search for lost supply. Industry consultant Genscape reported that nominations are now being affected. "The disruption actually extends farther west into Iowa, where flows past Harper have dropped from roughly 850 MMcf/d to 89 MMcf/d [Tuesday].

"Upstream, the system is adjusting by reducing Canadian imports and slightly lower receipts from North Dakota production, while downstream displaced gas is being redirected to NNG at Ventura (up 365 MMcf/d), NGPL at Harper (up 220 MMcf/d DOD), and a variety of smaller NNG interconnects in South Dakota and Minnesota. Other pipeline receipt points deprived of Northern Border gas appear to be compensating by increasing receipts from Alliance and NGPL."

Those receipts came at a price. Gas delivered to Northern Border Ventura jumped 39 cents to $1.77, and gas on NGPL Midcontinent Pool surged 27 cents to $1.81. Packages on Northern Natural Demarcation rose 23 cents to $1.85, and gas on Panhandle Eastern was quoted 21 cents higher at $1.75.

Markets to the east gained as well. Gas on Alliance rose 23 cents to $1.95, and parcels at the Chicago Citygate rose 21 cents to $1.92.

Still farther east, not so much. Gas on Consumers was quoted 13 cents higher at $2.13, and next-day gas on Michigan Consolidated rose 16 cents to $2.11.

In New England, next-day gas prices struggled, hampered by uncooperative temperature forecasts and a soft power pricing environment. Intercontinental Exchange reported that on-peak power Wednesday at ISO New England's Massachusetts Hub fell $3.26 to $29.10.

Gas at the Algonquin Citygate shed 2 cents to $2.45, and deliveries to Iroquois, Waddington added 11 cents to $2.22. Gas on Tenn Zone 6 200L fell 14 cents to $2.34.

AccuWeather.com predicted a volatile eastern temperature pattern. Boston's high of 54 Tuesday was expected to rise to 56 Wednesday before jumping to 72 Thursday. The normal mid-April high in Boston is 57. New York City's Tuesday high of 70 was seen falling to 64 Wednesday before climbing back to 71 Thursday, 8 degrees above normal.

Futures traders see more room higher. "I think we endure up to $2.20 this week and head back down from there," said a New York floor trader.

Traders who follow wave counts see prices moving even higher. "Our wave count had a market bottom in place with the March low," said Elaine Levin, vice president at Powerhouse LLC, a Washington, DC-based trading and risk management firm. "We had the market in a wave 3 coming into this week and we have a target for the wave 3 up to as high as $2.45. Elliott Wave projections have at least another dime in this move."

Elliott Wave analysis breaks market movements into five-wave patterns, three in the dominant direction and two corrective. The third wave of the entire five-wave sequence is often the largest and longest-lasting of the moves in the primary direction -- in this case higher.

Other analysts are looking for the spot month to come under pressure. "[I]t appears that the market was looking for some major bearish updates to the short-term temperature forecasts during the past weekend and such a development failed to materialize," said Jim Ritterbusch of Ritterbusch and Associates in closing comments Tuesday. "Although the weather factor still appears tilted in a bearish direction, the market appears to be attracting some buying off of some production slippage and a smaller than normal EIA supply injection per Thursday's EIA release.

"However, we still see a heavy physical trade in which sizable Henry Hub spot discounts against nearby futures will be acting as a drag on the May contract in relation to the forward months," he added. "The front switch has been under pressure during the past week and could easily establish a new wide contango during the coming week ahead of expiration. While we are maintaining a neutral trading posture, we still see high probability of a decline in nearby futures to the $1.83 area where we will expect long-term support to be validated."

MDA Weather Services in its Tuesday morning six- to 10-day outlook said, "Changes today were in the cooler direction in the West and Midwest, but generally small across the East. Confidence, however, remains lower than normal for this lead time as models continue to show decent run to run volatilities as it relates to the southward extent of cooler than normal air into the Midwest and East.

"This includes within the individual members from the model ensembles. With this uncertainty, the forecast favors slightly below normal temperatures in the Northeast, while aboves span the southern tier. A trough is expected to dive into the West, leaving that region cool."

MDA sees mostly seasonal temperatures for the remainder of the week. Chicago is expected to see highs in the upper 60s before a Friday drop to 54. The normal high in Chicago this time of year is 61. New York City's Tuesday high of 70 is anticipated to dip to 65 Tuesday before making it to 74 Friday, 9 degrees above normal.

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