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Cash, Futures Ease; But Market On Edge with Slow Storage Builds

Physical gas for delivery Thursday fell across a wide front in Wednesday's trading as a modest warming trend was expected in Midwest energy markets. Only a handful of locations escaped the price cleaver, and the most severe declines were seen in the Northeast, with some points dropping by more than $1.00.

On average, spot prices nationally were down a dime. Midwest, Gulf, Rockies, California and the Midcontinent all saw price weakness. At the close of futures trading May had fallen 3.7 cents to $4.530, and June was down by 3.8 cents to $4.549. May crude oil rose a penny to $103.76/bbl.

Meteorologists reported that cold temperatures in the Northeast would give way to a modest warming trend. "A harsh blast of cold air that moved over the Northeast on Tuesday night will be quick to leave," said AccuWeather.com meteorologist Andy Mussoline. "Rain ended as some snowflakes from Pennsylvania to Maine on Tuesday night. Some wet snowflakes were even seen in New York City as temperatures plummeted into the 30s.

"Much of the precipitation tapered off by Wednesday morning with only some rain and snow along the coasts of Maine and Massachusetts. Snow fell in Chicago from late on Monday into Monday night, which generally brought wet roadways to the area. However, some slick spots developed for the Tuesday morning commute as the low reached 26 F. Detroit received just over three inches of snow late on Monday night into Tuesday morning, which made the 2013-2014 season the snowiest on record with 94.8 inches."

Temperatures were seen quite a bit warmer for Thursday. According to AccuWeather.com, Milwaukee's high of 48 Wednesday would rise to 51 Thursday before slipping to 43 on Friday; the normal high is 54. Indianapolis' 53 on Wednesday was expected to jump to 63 Thursday and ease to 62 on Friday. The seasonal high is 63. Detroit's Wednesday peak of 43 was predicted to jump to 59 Thursday before sliding to 56 on Friday. The normal mid-April high for Detroit is 60.

Gas for delivery Thursday to Joliet fell 7 cents to $4.83, and packages into the Chicago Citygates shed 10 cents to $4.80. Gas on Alliance was off 8 cents to $4.83, and parcels on Consumers lost 3 cents to $4.89. Gas on Michcon for Thursday changed hands at $4.85, down 6 cents.

"This month we decided to do a lot more [buying] on the cash market rather than Index," said a Michigan marketer. "That turned out to be a much better decision. At one point we saw prices in the $5.20s and we were able to buy on Consumers and Michcon at around $4.90."

He said storage was "the biggest wild card in our business right now. The longer it gets delayed, the months of August, September, and October are going to get bid up and you will see the pipelines full. You better hope it doesn't get cold. This storage report [for Thursday] has got me on edge. The builds people are talking about are way short of the 100 Bcf-plus weekly that is going to be needed. It's very frustrating."

The Northeast saw the day's biggest declines. Quotes at the Algonquin Citygates tumbled $1.22 to $5.55, and deliveries to Iroquois Waddington lost 26 cents to $5.10. Gas on Tennessee Zone 6 200 L skidded $1.25 to $5.49.

The Mid-Atlantic was also soft. Deliveries to New York City on Transco Zone 6 were lower by 22 cents to $4.53, and packages to Tetco M-3 Delivery fell 21 cents to $4.52.

Futures trading was slow. "There were a number of people out due to the Good Friday holiday looming, but the market is at the point it has to make a decision," said a New York floor trader. "I'm thinking that there will be a little pop and then it will back off a little bit. If we can't hold $4.53, I think we'll slide back to the upper $4.20s."

In its Wednesday forecast, WSI Corp. said it sees above-normal temperatures over much of the eastern half of the country. The six-10 day period forecast "has trended warmer across the central and eastern U.S., yet cooled over the Southwest when compared to the previous forecast. Forecast confidence is considered near average standards as a result of reasonable large-scale model agreement."

Risks to the forecast may be "in store over the East early-to-mid period if a digging cold trough sweeping across southeastern Canada extends further south across the northeaster U.S. than what is currently anticipated. Colder risks are also in store over the western two-thirds mid-to-late period as a Pacific upper-level trough impacts the region."

Near-term, the National Weather Service (NWS) expects a mixed pattern of heating load. For the week ended April 19, NWS predicts 97 heating degree days (HDD), or 38 fewer than normal for New England, and 89 HDD or 26 fewer than normal for the Mid-Atlantic. The Midwest, however, from Ohio to Wisconsin is expected to see 132 HDD, or 15 more than normal.

WeatherBELL Analytics' Alan Lammey sees an immobile market. "Despite the fact that there are several bullish catalysts already factored into the price of prompt-month gas, many participants are concerned about slightly longer-term bearish fundamentals, such as the potential for a less intense summer coupled with supply [production] remaining at record levels.

"Pretty much all eyes will be on the weekly natural gas storage data this week and subsequent weeks throughout the remainder of April and all of May as a sign of where the refill season might be headed for the summer. Meanwhile, wind power and other renewables are gaining ground against natural gas. Additionally, coal prices are trading at the equivalent of about $2.60/MMBtu, marking a nearly $2.00 discount to natural gas."

Lammey is looking for a storage build of about 40 Bcf. "Once again, market expectations for this week's data is all over the place -- ranging from a build of 4 Bcf to as much as 45 Bcf."

Tom Saal, vice president at INTL FC Stone, in his work with Market Profile is looking for the market to test Tuesday's value area at $4.631-4.567. "Eventually," he said, the market should test $4.456-4.434.

If estimates are correct of Thursday's natural gas storage report, the industry will fall still farther behind the 100 Bcf-plus injections needed weekly to bring storage anywhere close to the 3.8 Tcf at the beginning of last winter's heating season. Last year, 25 Bcf was injected and the five-year pace stands at 37 Bcf. A Reuters poll of 22 traders and analysts resulted in a 34 Bcf average with a range of 22 Bcf to 44 Bcf. IAF Advisors calculates a 38 Bcf injection, and Ritterbusch and Associates is figuring on a 27 Bcf build.

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