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NatGas Cash, Futures Post Modest Gains As Traders Mull Market Direction; April Adds 3 Cents

Physical gas for Tuesday delivery gained, with major trading centers on Monday posting gains, and next-day quotes getting assistance from firm power pricing. Steady gains of a nickel or more in Texas, Louisiana, the Midcontinent and Midwest were able to counter highly volatile trading in New England and the Mid-Atlantic.

The NGI National Spot Gas Average added 9 cents to $3.34. The futures trend higher was kept alive as April posted new highs and at the close April had added 3.5 cents to $3.043 and May was higher by 3.3 cents as well to $3.107. April crude oil eased 9 cents to $48.40/bbl.

Traders seem somewhat circumspect about the market's next move. Spot futures peaked at $3.99 in late December and put in a near term bottom, perhaps a seasonal low, at $2.52 on Feb. 22, but has since rallied almost non-stop to its current $3 print.

"You could make an argument for a downtrend," said Tom Saal, vice president at FCStone Latin America LLC.

Could the recent advance be a “bull trap?” A bull trap is defined as a false signal indicating that a stock, futures or index has reversed a downtrend and is heading upwards when, in fact, the index or security will continue to decline. It often causes some investors to buy but because it continues to decline those who bought are "trapped” in a bad investment.

"I can't say that it is a bull trap or not," said Saal. Market “profiles are all over the place with values areas scattered around that have not been tested. You can flip a coin. There are value areas above the market [typically tested at some point] and value areas below [also usually tested].

"We'll see what kind of summer weather we get, but it looks like we are due for a counter move to the downside."

Near term weather forecasts were absorbing most of traders' attention. For this week, overnight weather models show significant cold with lingering aftereffects.

"The current workweek continues to aim for the coldest conditions of 1Q2017 for the East Coast -- an impressive feat after a warm-dominated January and February," said Matt Rogers, president of Commodity Weather Group in a Monday morning note to clients.

"A strong winter storm enhances impacts, especially for the upper Mid-Atlantic to Northeast over the coming days. The six-10 day and 11-15 day still trend warmer; however, timing is slower and the re-warming is generally weaker than forecast by models last week. The result is lingering coolness toward the Eastern U.S. in the six-10 day as well as toward the Northeast in the 11-15 day."

The National Weather Service (NWS) for the upcoming week forecasts much above normal heating loads across major population centers. For the week ending March 18, NWS expects New England to shiver under 275 heating degree days (HDD), or 66 more than normal. New York, New Jersey and Pennsylvania are forecast to see 268, HDDs or 79 more than normal, and the greater Midwest from Ohio to Wisconsin is anticipated to endure 248 HDDs or 50 more than its normal seasonal tally.

The cold is expected to boost demand across the eastern third of the country, according to observers. "Demand should remain supported this week as the departure of the Nor'easter in Appalachia and New England will be trailed by an arctic cold front," said industry consultant Genscape Inc. in a Monday morning report.

"New England demand is nominated to 3.69 Bcf/d [Monday] and is forecast to run in the 3.5-3.6 Bcf/d range through Thursday before trailing off into next weekend. Appalachia demand is nominated at 16.27 Bcf/d [Monday] and forecast to rise to a peak of 18.55 Bcf/d by Wednesday. We show Southeast/Mid-Atlantic demand just shy of 17.7 Bcf/d [Monday] and rising to a Wednesday high of 20 Bcf/d. Demand in the Midwest and westward markets, meanwhile, is expected to run fairly flat to declining on mild weather and sustained high output from renewables."

Market technicians see a milestone in sight that could signal that the $2.52 low of Feb. 22 was the seasonal cycle low. "The progress continues," said Brian LaRose of United ICAP in closing comments Friday. "But bulls still have one more hurdle they must clear to signal $2.522 marked a seasonal low.

"That area of contention is $3.070-3.084. Will be looking for a more substantial retracement of the $3.994 to 2.522 decline over the next couple of months if the bulls can better this last band of resistance." LaRose noted that an average seasonal gain of 50% from $2.522 would target $3.783.

In the physical market, prices rose with the Mid-Atlantic making strides higher aided and abetted by firm next-day power pricing. Intercontinental Exchange reported that on-peak power at the New York ISO's Zone G (eastern New York) delivery point rose $36.00 to $70.00/MWh, and next-day power at the PJM West terminal rose a hefty $6.19 to $49.84/MWh.

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Gas on Texas Eastern M-3, Delivery gained 70 cents to $4.74, and gas bound for New York City on Transco Zone 6 added 78 cents to $6.71.

Market centers were firm. Gas at the Chicago Citygate gained 9 cents to $3.04, and deliveries to the Henry Hub rose 8 cents to $3.06. Packages on Northern Natural Demarcation came in 14 cents higher at $3.08, and gas on Kern River Receipts added 6 cents to $2.69.

Gas at the SoCal Citygate jumped as next-day power across California rose. Intercontinental Exchange reported on-peak power Tuesday at NP-15 advanced $3.63 to $32.13/MWh, and power at SP-15 rose $3.52 to $31.24/MWh.

Gas for next-day delivery at the SoCal Citygate rose a stout 45 cents to $3.10.

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