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NatGas Futures Match Broad Cash Gains; June Up By 4 Cents

Physical natural gas for Wednesday delivery rose modestly in trading Tuesday with pervasive gains on either side of a nickel seen in both market zones and producing zones.

Only a handful of points recorded losses, and the NGI National Spot Gas Average added 6 cents to $1.89. The Midwest and Gulf Coast added a few pennies, on average, but Midcontinent locations rose close to a dime. Futures were able to recover some of Monday's double-digit losses. At the close June had added 4.4 cents to $2.086 and July was higher by 3.6 cents to $2.254. June crude oil shed $1.13 to $43.65/bbl.

On Friday spot futures posted its highest price since the $1.611 low of early March at $2.195, and cash quotes have been quick to reach new 30-day highs at a number of locations in the Midcontinent and Midwest.

ANR SW surpassed its 30-day high of $1.83 with a posting Tuesday of $1.91, and Panhandle Eastern did the same, reaching $1.89, 6 cents above its 30-day high. Northern Natural Demarc traded at $1.99, 4 cents higher than its 30-day maximum.

At the Chicago Citygate the previous 30-day high of $2.01 was surpassed when physical trading revealed a $2.06 print and deliveries to Joliet rose above its 30-day high by a penny when it traded at $2.04

Major interconnects with the REX Zone 3 Expansion also surpassed 30-day maximums. REX into NGPL at Moultrie County, IL, came in a penny higher than its maximum at $1.91, and gas on Midwestern Pipeline at Edgar County, IL, traded $1.93, 2 cents above its 30-day maximum.

At major market centers prices posted steady gains. Gas at the Henry Hub rose a penny to $1.92, and deliveries to Opal added 8 cents to $1.87. Gas at the PG&E Citygate changed hands 4 cents higher at $2.06.

Analysts see cumulative weather patterns as a greater market driver, than any expectations of reduced production going forward. "We haven't seen it yet [the decline in production], and I don't know when you can say it's going to happen," said Tom Saal, vice president at FCStone Latin America LLC in Miami.

"What we can feel more comfortable about is demand has been pretty weak in terms of the weather. Last summer was a pretty weak summer, and this past winter has been pretty weak also. That's more contributing to why we are languishing around here [$2], and that also contributes to near record levels of storage. The resilience of prices will be more demand-related than supply-related," Saal said.

Market observers see the market in something of a holding pattern given the lack of a weather driver. "This wide-swinging sideways pattern is not unusual for the shoulder period given lack of strong weather influence," said Jim Ritterbusch of Ritterbusch and Associates in a Tuesday morning note to clients. "Nonetheless, even minor changes in the weather views that now stretch to beyond mid-month appear to be having an exaggerated impact.

"Bulls can continue to cite some recent production slippage that is finally seeing translation from the plunge in the rig counts. On the other hand, bears can indicate a near-record level of storage in which supply is roughly 48% above five-year averages and unlikely to see much contraction as this month proceeds. Meanwhile, burdensome coal supplies are tending to limit additional coal to gas substitution in restricting electric generation demand increases.

"At the end of the day, lack of sustainable price direction appears to be limiting speculative participation with the money managers slowly reducing bearish exposure regardless of weekly price swings."

Forecasters are calling for both increased heating and cooling load. "The six-10 day period forecast features above average temperatures across much of the central and eastern U.S. into the Northwest," said WSI Corp. in its Tuesday morning report. "The Southwest and Four Corners are expected to be cooler than average. [Tuesday's] forecast is cooler than yesterday's forecast across much of the central U.S. and Northeast. The West Coast and south-central U.S. are warmer. CONUS GWHDDs are up 1.4 to 14.3 for the period. PWCDDs are up 0.3 to 17.6.

Technical analysts versed in Elliott Wave and retracement analysis see a possible interruption to the advance that has been in place since March. "Natgas has carved itself out a little up trend channel from the only 11% bulls (Market Vane) at the $1.611 low," said Brian LaRose, a market analyst at United-ICAP, in closing comments Monday.

"That up trend channel support line cuts today at the $1.970 level. The next two steps lower from there would be $1.835 and then $1.700 as the 0.618 and then 0.852 retracements of the $1.611 to $2.195 rebound."

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