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Shoulder-Season Fundamentals Grip Natural Gas Basis

Natural gas basis markets remained in a lull for the second week of March, with prompt-month prices shifting less than five cents at most market hubs, amid forecasts for mostly mild weather across the United States.

The lackluster activity along forward curves came as Nymex futures climbed 5.6 cents from Monday to Thursday, gains which were accumulated ahead of the week's storage report from the U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA).

And while the EIA's reported storage withdrawal was slightly higher than expected and a record for March, futures ultimately fell Thursday as the mild weather on tap for most of the country proved too difficult for traders to ignore.

Forecasters with NatGasWeather have called for a few more wintry weather systems to make their way into the Northeast over the next couple of weeks, but whether those systems are strong enough to drive significant heating demand in and beyond that region is still uncertain.

"The cold blast for the end of next week does look quite strong and should impact a greater portion of the northern U.S. to drive a period of stronger-than-normal heating demand," NatGasWeather said. “But once again, this one is also showing flaws where it could trend warmer as well. It will then be up to additional weather systems and associated cold blasts to follow after March 23-24 for stronger-than-normal heating demand to continue, which the data still suggests there's potential for, but with not a lot of support."

Like so many traders appear to believe, the forecasters suggest the heating demand season could be very close to being over if colder weather patterns fail to show up more definitively after March 24.

Still, one Northeast market point showed comparable strength this week despite the otherwise bleak demand picture.

Transco zone 6-New York April basis jumped 12.6 cents between Monday and Thursday to reach minus 19.3 cents/MMBtu, according to NGI’s Forward Look.

A Northeast trader attributed the strength to power marketers bidding up the price as the cold snaps continue in the region.

“Power traders rule the Northeast now. They dictate all the activity,” he said.

Indeed, load forecasts from the New York Independent System Operator show peak demand hovering near 20,000 MW throughout next week, a slight increase from the current week.

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