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More Cold Brings Natural Gas Cash Buyers Off Bench; Futures Rise Again

Physical gas prices for Thursday delivery soared in Wednesday's trading as next-day temperatures in major Atlantic Seaboard markets were forecast to dive by close to 20 degrees.

New England and the Mid-Atlantic experienced single- and double-dollar-digit gains, and only a scattering of points in the Midcontinent, Rockies and California fell into the loss column. The overall market gain was a stout $1.33 to average $4.59. Futures worked higher but trading was modest and prices were confined to a narrow 7-cent range.

At the close April was 5.7 cents higher at $2.769, and May had risen 5.5 cents to $2.806. April crude oil added $1.01 to $51.53/bbl.

Just when residents of the Yukon-like Northeast experienced near normal temperatures Wednesday, the forecast quickly changed. Wunderground.com predicted Boston's high of 45 would fall to 27 Thursday and Friday. The seasonal high in Boston is 42. New York City's 45 high was expected to slide to 29 Thursday and Friday, 17 degrees below normal. Philadelphia's 49 Wednesday maximum also was anticipated to drop to 29 Thursday and Friday, well off the normal early March high of 45.

The Mid-Atlantic sported double-dollar-digit gains. Gas for delivery into New York City on Transco Zone 6 jumped $12.01 to $15.83, and gas on Transco non NY (north) points in southern New Jersey and southeast Pennsylvania added $11.04 to $14.37. Gas on Tetco M-3 gained $6.48 to $9.50.

Gas on New England pipes was right behind, with single-dollar-digit increases. Deliveries to the Algonquin Citygates rose $6.85 to $13.98. Gas at Dracut jumped $6.66 to $13.32, and gas on Tennessee Zone 6 200 L vaulted $6.21 to $13.22.

Gas at Marcellus points also rose. Deliveries to Millennium added 15 cents to $1.62, and gas at Leidy Transco rose 5 cents to $1.38. Parcels on Tennessee Zone 4 Marcellus were seen 6 cents higher at $1.30, and gas on Dominion South changed hands 86 cents higher at $3.05.

Higher Thursday peak power prices helped drive gas quotes upward. Intercontinental Exchange reported that peak Thursday power at the ISO New England's Massachusetts Hub jumped $45.08 to $112.14/MWh, while peak power at the New York ISO Zone G (eastern New York) delivery point added $27.44 to $89.44/MWh. Next-day peak power across the expansive PJM footprint (West Hub) surged $40.70 to $81.16/MWh.

The National Weather Service in suburban Philadelphia forecast a series of active weather systems. It said "several waves of low pressure will track northeastward along a cold frontal boundary” into Thursday. “This cold frontal boundary will move offshore Thursday night and will give way to an area of high pressure moving into the region on Friday. For the weekend and early next week, we will alternate between areas of high pressure and cold fronts moving through the region."

Next-day gas at Midwest and Great Lakes points made stout gains as well. Thursday gas on Alliance rose 67 cents to $5.27, and packages at the Chicago Citygates added 66 cents to $4.98. On Consumers, gas for Thursday was quoted at $5.16, up 64 cents, and deliveries to Michcon rose 85 cents to $5.12.

Gulf points also participated. Gas on ANR SE added 31 cents to $3.26, and parcels at the Henry Hub rose by 33 cents to $3.26. On Columbia Gulf Mainline, next-day gas was quoted at $3.28, 36 cents higher, and at Katy, Thursday deliveries were seen at $3.35, up 37 cents.

For the most part the cold of last week has been factored into Thursday's Department of Energy’s (DOE) Energy Information Administration storage report for the week ended Feb. 27. Last year 144 Bcf was withdrawn and the five-year average stands at 115 Bcf, but this week's report has estimates well above 200 Bcf.

Industry consultant Genscape Inc. is predicting a 227 Bcf pull, and IAF Advisors is looking for a draw of 228 Bcf. A Reuters poll of 23 traders showed an average 222 Bcf with a range of 195 Bcf to 235 Bcf.

Ahead of the storage numbers, one forecaster has tallied fewer heating degree day accumulations, which led to a lower estimate.

"The consensus view shows a modest step up from the 219 Bcf decline in the prior week, but we saw a decline in the Frontier Weather population-weighted degree day accumulations, and so our model points to a lower 195 Bcf draw," said Tim Evans of Citi Futures Perspective.

"We'd take this divergence as indicating the possibility of a bearish surprise in Thursday's DOE storage report, but not a strong enough reason to sell ahead of the data release. With the 11-15 day outlook turning somewhat cooler on Tuesday, we also see enough heating demand for the week ending March 20 to limit what could still be the first storage build of the year."

By March 20 Evans’ figures indicate the current 30 Bcf year-on-five-year deficit growing to 132 Bcf as the industry records its first storage injection.

"Although the broadening year-on-five-year average deficit confirms the market will be tighter on a seasonally adjusted basis in the near term and this often translates into a price rally over the intermediate term, the market rejected an attempt to move higher off the cold itself and is showing little fear in the face of the resulting above-average storage withdrawals," Evans said.

"At the moment, the market remains fully focused on the approach of spring -- that and perhaps the background uptrend in natural gas production. Of course, there is always some chance that the market might snap out of its complacency and back to the upside after all."

Meteorologists on The Weather Centre blog, who are studying Global Forecast System ensembles, see "a massive ridge of high pressure, the same one which has allowed for such a cold and snowy February, meandering westward over the north-central Pacific, as opposed to the northeast Pacific and Gulf of Alaska. This comes as a strong trough drops into the Southwest and Baja California.

"In response, with the strong upper-level low previously positioned over Greenland now over Europe, a ridge is able to form over the central and east U.S. It looks like this ridge will be suppressed a bit, but warmer weather is on the way for those in the Plains, Midwest, Ohio Valley and Northeast, among other areas."

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