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NatGas Cash Zigs, Futures Zag, But May Drops 6 Cents

Physical natural gas prices and futures prices parted ways in Monday trading as gas for next-day delivery surged and futures slumped.

Physical traders only had to look at a forecast temperature drop of as much as 25 degrees in New England as well as other points to get their juices flowing, but futures traders looked out longer term and saw little in the way of weather-driven encouragement. Stout gains of as much as a half-dollar at eastern points as well broad strength at Midwest market points and producing zones were easily able to offset softer pricing in the Rockies and California.

The NGI National Spot Gas Average gained 10 cents to $2.91. Futures started out weak and remained underwater for most of the session. May settled at $3.163, down 6.4 cents and June shed 5.6 cents to $3.251.

In the East, prices jumped as a steep drop in temperatures was forecast. Wunderground.com predicted Monday's high in Boston of 75 degrees would free fall to 50 Tuesday and reach 52 by Wednesday, 4 degrees below normal. New York City's predicted high of 72 Monday was expected to drop to 61 Tuesday and fall to 54 by Wednesday, 8 degrees below the seasonal norm.

Gas at the Algonquin Citygate jumped 50 cents to $3.12, and deliveries to Iroquois, Waddington added 53 cents to $3.30. Packages on Tenn Zone 6 200L gained 55 cents to $3.35.

Gas on Texas Eastern M-3, Delivery rose 28 cents to $2.73, and gas bound for New York City on Transco Zone 6 vaulted 53 cents to $2.97.

"Cooler temperatures were expected Tuesday night as compared to Monday night as lighter winds and clear skies create better conditions for radiational cooling for the outlying areas, at least early in the night," said the National Weather Service. "Then clouds increase somewhat, so temperatures may bottom out prior to sunrise and remain steady or rise slightly for the second half of the night. Lows will be in the middle to upper 30s in the outlying areas, 40s elsewhere."

Gains at more westerly points were not quite as robust. Gas at the Chicago Citygate rose 10 cents to $2.97, and deliveries to the Henry Hub were quoted 8 cents higher at $3.06. Gas on El Paso Permian added a penny to $2.69. Kern Receipts changed hands 2 cents higher at $2.76, and gas priced at the SoCal Border Avg. Average came in a penny higher at $2.83.

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Traders also had to deal with what could be a production shortfall of more than 500 MMcf/d of gas from Wetzel County, WV, where the MarkWest Mobley Gas Processing Plant is expected to undergo an outage Tuesday, according to Genscape Inc.

"This outage may affect 600 MMcf/d of capacity with Equitrans and 57 MMcf/d capacity with TCO," Genscape said in a note Monday. "Neither pipe has specified the exact reduction, nor were requests to the pipelines for a more accurate estimation of this outage returned.

"A similar event on Equitrans on Nov. 1, 2016 stated that all scheduled quantities will be taken to zero. MarkWest ended up canceling that outage, and this could be a rescheduling attempt by MarkWest."

Futures opened trading 6 cents lower Monday morning at $3.17 as weather models were unable to muster any significant changes and the likelihood of tapping into cold, Canadian air appeared remote.

"No major changes were made to the forecast in this period when compared to the Sunday report, but cooler changes are noted in the eastern half relative to expectations seen late last week," said MDA Weather Services in its Monday six- to 10-day outlook. "Near-normal readings are now forecast from the Plains points east, with any belows pressing in being brief and storm based. A cooler air mass is seen in Canada, but this air mass may be a struggle to tap into given the still active flow out of the Pacific.

"With that said, raw model consensus is cooler across the eastern half and poses a risk lean in that direction. The Southwest favors aboves throughout the period. Some models over the weekend suggested interaction between low pressure and a cooler Canadian air mass, a risk in the cooler direction of forecast. The Interior West could be cooler late."

Bulls were advised to be patient for forecast weather to develop.

"It's next weekend when a weather system will track over the southern and eastern U.S., to then be followed by a colder one across the north-central and northeastern U.S., and where we see the addition of several heating degree days," said Natgasweather.com in a Sunday report. "Mild high pressure is favored to follow across the southern and eastern U.S. April 28-31 with light demand returning, although it's worth noting the EC [European] weather model is a little cooler on the late April pattern than the warmer GFS [Global Forecast System]."

Despite Monday’s setback, traders are looking at what may be a warm spring and summer on the heels of a warm winter.

"Some of the early thoughts are that after this warm winter that we could be seeing a warm summer, and that has been one of the reasons natural gas has been on this upmove," said Powerhouse LLC principal Elaine Levin. "I was thinking that once we got into the $3s that producers would come in and sell this market, but they haven't, and I think some of that may be expectations for higher demand this summer.

"That's why puts were created. You can pay the [put] premium and protect the downside and not give up the upside. Conversely I can buy a put and sell a call and participate in a move higher. "We did a hedge for a producer recently for next year with a call skew and he was able to sell a call higher than the price he sold the put," she said.

Others see a move lower followed by a summer advance.

"Short term I am looking for a move as low as $2.80, but beyond that, prices should rise," said Harry’s RE Trust’s principal Alan Harry. "Production is just not responding to the increase in the gas rig count we have seen for the last year."

FCStone Latin America LLC’s Tom Saal, vice president, in his work with Market Profile expected the market to test last week's value area at $3.221 to $3.149. That value area, he said, encompasses a large portion of Minus Development pricing from last week.

"Minus Development is a pricing area 'to be filled in' to complete a normal (bell curve) distribution," he said in Monday note to clients.

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