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Physical, Futures Prices Weaken, But September Falls Further Ahead Of Storage Report

Spot gas for Thursday delivery slipped lower in Wednesday’s trading, and losses were broad and pervasive while only a few points managed to gain.

The greatest declines were seen in New England as weather forecasts moderated and power loads were expected to decline. The Mid-Atlantic was also down by double-digits, and prices in Appalachia weakened as well. The Marcellus proved to be a bright spot with quotes adding up to double-digits.

Overall, the National Average was unchanged. At the close of futures trading, September had fallen 5.4 cents to $3.823, and October dropped 4.8 cents to $3.860. September crude oil jumped $1.59 to $96.07/bbl.

New England locations took some serious hits as weather forecasts called for below normal temperatures. Wunderground.com said Wednesday's high in Boston of 75 was expected to fall to 72 Thursday before reaching 70 on Friday. The normal high is 79 this time of year. Albany, NY's 85 Wednesday high was expected to drop to 76 Thursday and Friday, 4 degrees below the normal mid-August high. In New Haven, CT, Wednesday's high of 78 was forecast to drop to 76 Thursday and Friday, 2 degrees below normal.

"Wet [load killing] weather likely impacting western and central portions of New England beginning [Wednesday] and continuing through Friday,” said the National Weather Service in southeastern Massachusetts. “Drier and cooler weather follows into the weekend. A warm-up is possible into next week prior to an unsettled pattern ahead of a frontal boundary sweeping south out of Canada."

Power loads were forecast to decline into Friday. The New York Independent System Operator expected Wednesday's peak load of 23,083 MW to ease to 22,441 MW Thursday and 22,274 MW Friday. ISO New England predicted peak load of 18,100 MW Wednesday would fall to 17,380 MW Thursday and 16,890 MW Friday.

Gas delivered Thursday to the Algonquin Citygates shed 29 cents to average $2.46, and gas on Tennessee Zone 6 200 L was seen down by 23 cents to $2.51. Next-day packages on Millennium fell 4 cents to $2.29.

Prices in the Mid-Atlantic and Appalachia softened. Gas bound for New York City on Transco Zone 6 shed 21 cents to $2.37, and gas on Tetco M-3 fell 26 cents to $2.34. Parcels on Columbia Gas TCO were seen off a penny to $3.90, and gas on Dominion South shed 7 cents to $2.29.

"Midwest demand has risen to 8.84 Bcf/d, a 0.72 Bcf/d increase from the 30-day average,” according to consultant Genscape Inc. “The rise is mostly driven by fuel switching in the power sector. On gas day Aug.18, total load in the MISO market jumped to 2,002 TWh/d from 1,761 TWh/d the day prior. While generation from all sources increased during this period, gas’ share of generation ramped from 11% of the stack to 15%, while coal’s share of the stack fell from 68% to 65%.

"The jump in demand helped lift Chicago cash basis to $0.08, a $0.03 increase from the August month-to-date average," the firm stated.

Next day gas in the Midwest was mostly steady. Gas on Alliance fell a penny to average $3.93, and deliveries to the Chicago Citygates were also down a penny at $3.93. Gas on Michcon was flat at $3.96, and deliveries to Consumers added a penny to $3.97.

Traders are looking for a storage build Thursday in the low 80 Bcf range, well ahead of last year's 58 Bcf and a five-year average of 48 Bcf. Citi Futures Perspective is forecasting a 82 Bcf increase and United ICAP calculates an injection of 86 Bcf. A Reuters poll of 25 traders and analysts revealed an average 83 Bcf and a range of 74 Bcf to 94 Bcf.

Analysts saw Tuesday's hefty 8 cent gain as holding within recent trading parameters and "supported by a somewhat warmer temperature forecast for next week. There is at least some chance that the tropical wave designated 96L could track through the Gulf of Mexico in seven-10 days, putting roughly 3.2 Bcf/d of offshore natural gas production at risk," said Tim Evans of Citi Futures Perspective.

Estimates of the week's likely dominant price driver, the Thursday Energy Information Administration storage report, are "still in formation, but estimates we've seen so far closely bracket our own model's 82 Bcf figure, a build that would look bearish compared to the 48 Bcf five-year average for the week ended Aug. 15.

"Although not quite as bearish as the prior scenario, under this storage forecast we would still see a declining year-on-five-year average storage deficit that we view as consistent with an increasing downside risk, and a reduced upside potential for prices. This may not eliminate the chance for a seasonal rally to the extent that reduced upside potential might mean a winter peak of $5.00 instead of $6.00, although a declining deficit often does translate into falling prices over the intermediate term, much as it has since June," he said.

In the Wednesday WeatherBELL 20-day outlook, meteorologist Joe Bastardi is predicting a cooling pattern to slide into the Great Lakes and upper Midwest.

"I am (as usual) riding the ECMWF [European model] for temperatures over the next 10-20 days, though I think there could be a bit more cooling into Texas later in the period for a time. However, instead of 'digging' into the Plains with a deeper trough, the trough with the cold air coming slides eastward through the Great Lakes later next week, so the cool comes and beats back the heat in the Midwest and mid-Mississippi Valley.

"However, I don't think it comes with the authority of the cooler air masses seen during most of this summer (we are talking from Oklahoma to Ohio as farther north it's quite cool). South of that area, Texas (for the most part) warms. Dallas is shrugging off the thunderstorm hangover from a few days ago."

Bottom line, WeatherBELL expects cooling requirements of 152.2 cooling degree days (CDD) nationally over the next 15 days. That would be well below last year's 184.7 CDD but a touch above the 30-year average of 147.9 CDD.

The National Hurricane Center (NHC) in its 2 p.m. EDT report on Wednesday said a pattern of shower and thunderstorm activity associated with an elongated area of low pressure was several hundred miles east of the southern Windward Islands and had become "a little better organized during the past few hours." Gradual development of this system is possible during the next few days while it moves west-northwestward at 10-15 mph across the Lesser Antilles and into the Caribbean Sea." NHC placed the chance of tropical storm formation in the succeeding 48 hours at 50% and in the next five days at 60%.

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