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Physical Market Narrowly Lower, But September Gains Off Storage Stats

Spot gas deliveries for Friday receipt slipped lower in Thursday's trading as losses at Marcellus and Northeast points were able to offset gains in East Texas, the Midcontinent and Rockies.

The overall market was broadly mixed, but on average, prices eased four cents. The Energy Information Administration (EIA) reported that working gas inventories rose by 88 Bcf for the week ended July 25. That was slightly below expectations, and September futures rose 5.5 cents to $3.841 and October gained 6.2 cents to $3.867. September crude oil dropped $2.10 to $98.17/bbl.

The day's market activity was a mix of gains in producing regions offset by weather-driven declines in the East and Northeast.

Gas in East Texas posted solid gains. At Carthage, next-day deliveries were seen at $3.70, up 3 cents, and at the Houston Ship Channel Friday parcels added a penny to $3.75. At Katy, gas changed hands at $3.75, up 2 cents. Deliveries on Transco Zone 2 gained a hefty 12 cents to $3.73, and gas on Tetco E TX rose 4 cents to $3.64.

Along the Eastern Seaboard, however, prices were mostly in the red. Forecaster Wunderground.com said Thursday's high in New York City of 81 degrees would hold Friday before dropping to 71 on Saturday. The normal high in New York this time of year is 84. Philadelphia's Thursday high of 84 was seen easing to 82 Friday and 75 on Saturday. The seasonal high in Philadelphia is 83. Washington, DC's Thursday high temperature of 87 was forecast to fall to 81 Friday and 80 by Saturday. The normal late-July high in Philadelphia is 88.

Near-term weather in the area was seen as unsettled. The National Weather Service serving Washington, DC, and Baltimore reported that "high pressure will remain over the region through Friday...but a series of upper-level disturbances will pass through during this time. A coastal front will develop Friday night...lasting through this weekend into early next week. Upper-level disturbances will continue to move over the area during this time."

Gas at the Algonquin Citygates shed 43 cents to $2.52, and deliveries to Iroquois Waddington were seen 9 cents lower at $3.64. Gas on Millennium shed 9 cents to $2.13.

Gas into the Mid-Atlantic was mixed. Packages headed for New York City on Transco Zn 6 fell three cents to $2.27, and deliveries on Tetco M-3 rose a penny to $2.24.

Marcellus gas took it on the chin again. Gas for Friday at Transco Leidy fell 17 cents to $1.32, and deliveries to Tennessee Zone 4 Marcellus skidded 24 cents to $1.20.

Columbia Gas TCO was up a cent at $3.72, and packages on Dominion South rose a penny to $2.04.

Traders were seeing a lot of gas moving north to south. "I think the spreads are pretty tight, and the usual trades are being made. I was talking to a producer who sold gas in the Gulf and was moving Ohio gas south," said a Houston-based pipeline veteran. "A lot of business is getting done, but it's moving the other way. The Northeast is fairly mild, and there is not a lot of demand for baseload gas. Storage re-fillers are active, and pipeline maintenance is in full swing. Those with transport who can move through the maintenance issues have no problem, but otherwise it's tough to take a secondary out-of-path contract and make any money with it."

The Thursday morning release of storage data by the EIA can be a trader's delight or nightmare. Often only a few Bcf above or below expectations can cause wide price swings. Today is no different, but the dominant trend has been for storage builds way above historical averages and, in many cases, above expectations as well.

The reported 88 Bcf injection was just short of industry expectations in the low 90 Bcf range, and this was expected to show another large contraction in the storage deficit and be nearly double historical averages. Last year, 57 Bcf was injected, and the five-year pace stands at 46 Bcf. Tim Evans of Citi Futures Perspective calculated an injection of 89 Bcf, and United ICAP was looking for an increase of 93 Bcf. A Reuters poll of 24 analysts revealed an average 93 Bcf with a range of 85 Bcf to 100 Bcf.

"88 Bcf is still a big number," said a New York floor trader. "It's quite a bit larger than last year and the five-year average, so I'm not sure why this thing would want to rally. I think this is temporary. There is no reason for the market to rally."

Inventories now stand at 2,307 Bcf and are 530 Bcf less than last year and 641 Bcf below the five-year average. In the East Region 57 Bcf was injected, and the West Region saw inventories up by 12 Bcf. Inventories in the Producing Region rose by 19 Bcf.

Bentek Energy's flow model also chimed in with a 93 Bcf estimate. "Total U.S. population-weighted cooling degree days fell for the fourth straight week, dipping below the 70 degree day mark for the first time since the June 27 storage week," Bentek said. "The relatively mild weather compared to historic norms helped keep Bentek's total sample of storage injections flat week-over-week. Combined with the low levels of demand were strong production levels, with Lower 48 dry gas production coming in above 68.5 Bcf/d for the week, which is the highest weekly average on record."

In its Thursday morning 20-day outlook, WeatherBELL Analytics said it sees no significant changes to the pattern of cool temperatures over the next two to three weeks. "[The] overall pattern of transience (lack of hit and hold heat) continues, [and] cool rules next two to three weeks overall," said meteorologist Joe Bastardi. "JMA [Japan Meteorological Association model] hints at warmer pattern for northern and central Plains for September, [and] SOI [Southern Oscillation Index] has a major negative burst lurking in the coming 10 days, then back to the lackluster mode."

WeatherBELL calculated diminished cooling requirements over the next two weeks. Nationally, it tabulates 149.3 cooling degree days (CDD), about in line with last year's 149.2 CDD but well short of a 30-year average of 170.1 CDD.

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