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NatGas Cash Ambles Higher; Futures Traders Eyeing Sell Side

Only a single market point fell into the loss column in Monday's trading for Tuesday physical natural gas, and most points outside the Northeast added about a nickel. Temperatures were expected to be at or slightly below normal in major eastern and Midwest markets, and the NGI National Spot Gas Average rose 7 cents to $2.81.

Futures weakened slightly, and traders see the market for now as a buy, but further price appreciation is necessary to maintain a bullish posture. At the close, April had eased 2.4 cents to $3.052, and May was off 2.2 cents to $3.131. May crude oil slid 24 cents to $47.73/bbl.

Near term natural gas bulls are keeping the market on a short leash.

"I am hearing about some [buy] stops in the $3.18 to $3.20 area, but the problem is the market has to get there first," said a New York floor trader. "Some traders may be thinking about doing a reversal up there, and for now it's holding above $3, but longer term if it doesn't get to $3.15 then turn around and sell."

Risk managers are looking for current market strength to run out of momentum. After the rally a week ago last Monday (March 20), "gas traded in a choppy two-sided range for the balance of the week," said DEVO Capital Management President Mike DeVooght. "The weekly storage number failed to be a market mover when the draw came in as expected.

"On a trading basis, we continue to look for the market to run out of steam in the $3.05-3.10 level on the spot market. We think there is a good chance that we could test the lows of late February in the next few weeks. We will hold current short positions for producers and will look to sell May at $3.15-3.20 for speculators."

DeVooght said trading accounts should sell May at $3.15-3.20, but end-users should stand aside. Producers and physical market longs should continue to hold the balance of an August 2016-July 2017 put strip at $2.70 offset with the sale of $3.50 call options. Alternatively, a $2.75 put strip of the same duration could be utilized countered with the sale of a $3.75 call paying 7 cents.

FCStone Latin America LLC Vice President Tom Saal, in Miami in his work with Market Profile, said to expect the market to test last week's value area at $3.071 to $3.015 and "maybe" test $2.184-2.762 and $3.253-3.128.

"Remember, only participating futures market traders can influence the futures price…in the futures market." Everyone else (i.e., media and non-participating physical traders) "are only spectators with an opinion," he said.

Cool temperatures across New England and the Midwest were enough to keep next-day prices elevated. Forecaster Wunderground.com said Monday's high in Boston of 43 would climb to 45 Tuesday and reach 50 by Wednesday, 1 degree above normal. Chicago's Monday high of 49 was seen making it to 50 by Tuesday before sliding to 47 Wednesday, 4 degrees below normal.

Gas at the Algonquin Citygate rose 21 cents to $2.81, and deliveries to Iroquois, Waddington added 16 cents to $3.22. Gas on Tennessee Zone 6 200 L managed a 36 cent gain to $3.23.

Major market centers were solidly in the black. Gas on Dominion South changed hands 15 cents higher at $2.63, and gas at the Chicago Citygate added a nickel to $2.92. Gas at the Henry Hub came in 3 cents higher at $2.95.

Parcels on El Paso Permian changed hands a nickel higher at $2.58, and gas at Opal rose 6 cents to $2.64.

On the West Coast, firm power pricing and forecast increases in power load helped steady next-day gas. Intercontinental Exchange reported that on-peak power Tuesday at NP-15 rose $3.63 to $23.30/MWh, and power at SP-15 added $2.26 to $22.39/MWh.

California’s grid operator CAISO forecast peak load Monday of 27,500 MW would climb to 27,858 MW Tuesday.

Gas at the PG&E Citygate added a nickel to $3.22, and packages at the SoCal Citygate rose 15 cents to $3.01. Gas priced at the SoCal Border Average added 7 cents to $2.72, while deliveries to El Paso S. Mainline/N. Baja changed hands 2 cents higher at $2.65.

[Subscriber Notice Regarding NGI’s Market-Leading Natural Gas Price Indexes]

Sunday overnight weather models turned cooler but showed a high degree of variability. "Forecast changes were in the cooler direction across the Eastern half when compared to Friday’s expectations, with cooler adjustments seen in parts of the Midwest and East versus the Sunday report as well," said MDA Weather Services in its Monday morning six- to 10-day outlook.

"Like in the nearer term, this period is expected to remain an active and stormy one across the Southern half and in the East, and models continue to show volatility and disagreement as it relates to disturbances tracking across these areas. As a result, confidence is lower than usual within the day-to-day details; however, a prominent Pacific flow leaves this period warmer than normal nationally.

"The Euro models offer cooler risks around the Great Lakes at mid-period," with both the Global Forecast System and Euro models "cooler in the Northeast while offering a mix of risks in the West."

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