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Near-Flat Quotes Again Rule, But Dips Dominant

The cash market proved to be more resilient than expected Friday. Despite cool to merely warm forecasts dominating in most areas, the expiration-day drop of 5.3 cents by June futures a day earlier and the extra loss of industrial demand over a long holiday weekend, prices remained near flat in most cases and rose at several locations.

Overall numbers ranged from flat to either about 15 cents lower or around a nickel higher. Gains tended to be concentrated in the Northeast and Gulf Coast, while western points recorded most of the largest declines.

Following an expiration-day drop by June futures, the July contract began its prompt-month reign with major support for Tuesday's resumption of cash trading by rising 15.8 cents (see related story).

Because of the Memorial Day holiday, Friday's deals covered flows from Saturday through Tuesday.

The National Weather Service expects June to kick off with several days of above-normal temperatures almost everywhere east of a line running from northwestern North Dakota through the eastern edge of Arizona; the exceptions were a South Atlantic coastal strip and upper New England, where mostly normal conditions were predicted.

Modest increases in air conditioning demand could be expected as the South continues a gradual creep upward to highs in the low 90s throughout most of the region. However, the fluctuating Northeast climate was due to see another temperature dip Saturday, but readings would still be on the warm side for late May, according to The Weather Channel.

The Midwest may experience more late spring-appropriate warmth this week, but going into the weekend it was remaining cool, with only a few sections likely to get above 70 Saturday. The West was Friday's softest region despite some sections of the Rockies being predicted to see 30s lows.

A couple of excess supply issues contributed to the western price weakness. SoCalGas extended a high-linepack OFO that had begun Thursday through at least Saturday, and El Paso reported experiencing high linepack Friday. IntercontinentalExchange (ICE) said El Paso's two San Juan Basin pools were among those taking the biggest price hits Friday. The Southern California border, which had seemed rather unaffected by the SoCalGas OFO Thursday in dropping a mere 2 cents, reflected the OFO impact to a greater extent Friday with a downturn of a little more than a dime, ICE said, although its trading volume on the ICE platform slid only marginally from 715,100 MMBtu to 700,100 MMBtu.

The Louisiana Department of Natural Resources said that as of late Thursday afternoon, reported flooding-related shut-ins in the state's south-central Atchafalaya Basin area were unchanged from the previous Friday's levels of 31.54 MMcf/d of gas and 3,785.1 b/d of oil.

A Midcontinent producer said he was again puzzled by what seemed to be an illogical market being stronger (or perhaps more accurately, not as soft) as he had expected. However, regional power generators were making big purchases Friday in anticipation of hotter weather, he said, and some other traders tend to "panic" a bit when they see active buying by the electric sector. He said he picked up some NGPL-Midcontinent gas early Friday at $4.08 and saw later pricing wind up in the $4.20s.

The producer said he could only figure that heat expectations must have been propelling both futures and cash higher in late trading. The market seems to be financially driven for now because there is no good fundamental support, he said, adding that it's a case of "the tail wagging the dog."

A Northeast marketer said Friday's prices averaged about 10-15 cents more than he expected. However, he acknowledged that even with slightly lower temperatures expected going into the weekend, the Northeast still had some cooling load left and would be getting warmer again this week.

Bidweek was pretty routine, the marketer said, and he found relatively little price volatility as it progressed.

There was a big reversal of the previous two weeks' decline in the gas-directed rig count as the Baker Hughes Rotary Rig Count said 15 rigs had been reactivated for gas drilling during the week ending May 27. The new tally of 881 rigs included gains of two in the Gulf of Mexico and 13 onshore, Baker Hughes. Its latest count was flat from a month ago and down 9% from the year-earlier level.

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