Spot natural gas for weekend and Monday delivery declined across a wide front Friday, with few points making it on to the positive side of the trading ledger. West Coast points were hard hit, but deep double-digit declines were seen in the Midcontinent, Marcellus, eastern and northeast points.
At the close of futures trading the soon-to-expire May contract had fallen 5.8 cents to $4.647 and June had shed 6.5 cents to $4.658. June crude oil tumbled $1.34 to $100.60/bbl.
A combination of expected mild weekend weather with possible snow at higher elevations, ample Pacific Northwest hydro, and anticipated soft power demand over the weekend was enough to send California and West Coast prices packing. Forecaster Wunderground.com predicted the 56 degree high in San Francisco Friday would rise to 59 Saturday and reach 66 on Monday, the seasonal norm. Los Angeles' Friday high of 71 was expected to slide to 68 Saturday and bounce back to 72 on Monday. The normal high in Los Angeles in late April is 68. San Diego's Friday high of 67 was anticipated to ease to 63 on Saturday but recover to a balmy 73 on Monday. The normal high in San Diego this time of year is 68.
The National Weather Service in Los Angeles said a fast-moving low-pressure system would bring snow to higher elevations and the Grapevine Pass over the weekend, but “High pressure will develop over the west on Sunday and a significant warm up will persist across the region for most of next week."
The Northwest River Forecast Center reported that the Dalles Dam, a pivotal measuring point for Pacific Northwest hydro supplies, had a 50% chance or greater of exceeding 99,498 thousand acre-feet (KAF) flows for the April-September period. That would put it well above the 30-year average flow of 92,704 KAF.
The California Independent System Operator, the manager of the state's electric grid, predicted that peak power Saturday would slide to 25,558 MW, down from 27,657 MW Friday.
Quotes for weekend and Monday gas at Malin fell 27 cents to $4.58, and quotes at the PG&E Citygates fell 20 cents to $5.10. Deliveries to the SoCal Citygate were off 22 cents to $4.85, and packages at SoCal Border points dropped 20 cents to $4.68. Gas on El Paso S Mainline fell 25 cents to $4.68.
In the Great Lakes marketers were formulating bidweek plans and were thinking of going with a much higher percentage of index-priced gas for May. "We aren't seeing any days much above 70 for May," said a Michigan marketer. The marketer also voiced concerns that storage refill was not going very quickly and could lead to higher prices.
For the first seven days of May, AccuWeather.com forecasts the high in Detroit no higher than 72, with most highs in the 50s and 60s.
Deliveries on Alliance for the weekend and Monday dropped 12 cents to $4.70, and gas at the Chicago Citygates slipped 11 cents to $4.69. Gas at Demarcation changed hands a dime lower at $4.65, and gas on Consumers fell 9 cents to $4.83. Deliveries to Michcon settled 8 cents lower at $4.82.
Futures traders see short-term negative price action. "We put in a new high for the move Thursday [$4.805], but there was no follow through," said a New York floor trader. "This is unfavorable price action, which means we will probably drift lower again. I look for a weak expiration to May on Monday."
Longer term, however, analysts see far greater risk to higher prices than lower ones. "From here, we expect some price consolidation between about [Thursday's] $4.67 lows and the approximate midpoint of [Friday's] range, roughly $4.74. Although our long-stated $4.80 target was achieved this morning, we will look for another run at this level by next week," said Jim Ritterbusch of Ritterbusch and Associates in closing comments to clients Thursday. "In short, we continue to advise working this market strictly from the long side while allowing for occasional price pullbacks of as much as 2.5-3% from most recent highs."
Ritterbusch had estimated Thursday's inventory build at 50 Bcf, just north of the 49 Bcf reported by the Energy Information Administration. "[Thursday's] stock draw was only a couple Bcf larger than five-year averages and kept the supply deficit north of 1 Tcf. We will continue to emphasize that upside price risk will continue to exceed that to the down side by at least a two-to-one ratio until sustainable deficit contraction against averages is seen. In the meantime, we will continue to suggest acceptance of profits out of any long positions on advances to above $4.80 while at the same time, advising fresh long positions on a scale down within the $4.60-4.70 zone in referencing the June futures."
It may be spring, but natural gas injections may be a little more challenging as heating loads are expected to be above normal. WeatherBELL Analytics in a Friday morning report said nationally in the six- to 10-day period, 41.9 heating degree days (HDD) can be expected, more than last year's 34 and more than the 30-year average of 36.7. In the 11- to 15-day time frame 33.7 HDD are on tap versus 27 for last year and a 29.6 average.
One weather model is projecting winter-like conditions. "The front five days has the strong trough diving through New England, [and] a major chill overtakes the Great Lakes into the Northeast, including the threat of snows into southern New England," said Joe Bastardi, a WeatherBELL meteorologist. "The GFS [Global Forecast System] is most ambitious, developing an accumulating snow in an area where people will have to be pumping their heating systems because of the wind and chill. This is more like something seen in March than the last weekend of April."
Market technicians versed in Elliott Wave and retracement suggest standing aside the market for now. Brian LaRose, an analyst at United-ICAP, said the market is "still stuck in neutral territory. Bulls need to breach $4.757-4.782-4.794 to open the door for further upside. Bears need to break $4.624-4.607 to signal a top is in place. Clear resistance, expect a march to $4.966-5.087-5.089. Take out support, expect a dump to $4.425-4.390 minimum. [We] suggest the sidelines until resistance can be exceeded or support can be broken."