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Firm California, Rockies Offset Flat Gulf; Futures Sputter

Physical gas for delivery Tuesday added over a nickel on Monday as firm pricing in the Northeast, Rockies, and California was able to offset Gulf markets that were mostly flat. The market overall gained 6 cents to $2.43.

Futures prices slumped lower and were confined to a modest 6-cent range as forecasters saw little chance of cold Canadian air making it to U.S. markets. Traders were content to stay on the sidelines awaiting a breach of technical support before taking further action.

At the close, May had fallen 6.3 cents to $2.650, and June was lower by 6.4 cents to $2.698. May crude oil added a hefty $3.00 to $52.14/bbl.

West Coast and California prices firmed as traders hedged against rising prices and fidgeted over continued deterioration of the state’s water condition. Hydro is nonexistent this year.

“It doesn't make any difference what Folsom Lake looks like, it's what happens to the snowpack and they've got nothing," said a California broker. "Natural gas will stay where it's needed. We've got three paths into the state -- north, central, and south -- and there will be some basis changes. We have been buying basis all this year for next year. Guys in San Diego will load up the SoCal Basis versus the SP-15, and we are hedged out for years.

"At $2.65 to $2.70 and out to $3.00 in the further out months, that probably makes some sort of sense. Look at it this way,” the trader said. “Whatever traders are not looking for in crude oil, they are also not looking for in natural gas.”

Next-day gas at Malin added 11 cents to $2.37, and deliveries to PG&E Citygates rose 6 cents to $2.87. Deliveries to SoCal Citygates rose 14 cents to $2.62, and packages at the SoCal Border came in 9 cents higher at $2.45. On El Paso S Mainline, gas changed hands 9 cents higher at $2.45.

Temperatures on the West Coast were expected to be mild. Wunderground.com forecast that Monday's high in Los Angeles of 64 would hold Tuesday and rise to 68 by Wednesday. The seasonal high in Los Angeles is 72. San Francisco's 59 high Monday was seen unchanged for Tuesday and then hitting 60 by Wednesday, three degrees below normal.

Next-day peak power on the West Coast was mixed. Intercontinental Exchange reported that peak power at Mid C rose 19 cents to $20.85/MWh, and on-peak power at SP-15 slid 95 cents to $27.72/MWh.

Industry consultant Genscape Inc. reported that California demand increased from 4.73 Bcf/d to 5.17 Bcf/d from April 5 to April 6.

Prices jumped at eastern points as next-day peak power firmed. Next-day peak power at the ISO New England's Massachusetts Hub gained $8.73 to $38.75/MWh, and deliveries to the PJM Western Hub gained $5.90 to $36.33/MWh.

At the Algonquin Citygates, Tuesday gas rose $1.10 to $4.24 and deliveries to Millennium were seen 3 cents higher at $1.63. Gas on Tennessee Zone 6 200 L gained 94 cents to $4.19.

At the extremities of Transco Zone 6, prices plunged as mild weather prevailed. Gas bound for New York City on Transco Zone 6 fell 14 cents to $2.01, and packages on Transco Zone 6 non NY north (southeasternmost Pennsylvania and southern New Jersey) dropped 20 cents to $1.91. The high in New York Monday was forecast by AccuWeather.com to reach a balmy 65 before sliding to 60 on Tuesday. In Philadelphia the high Monday was expected to climb to 74 before falling to 68 Tuesday.

Rockies prices also firmed. At the Cheyenne Hub, next-day deliveries rose 6 cents to $2.29, and gas on CIG Mainline was quoted 8 cents higher at $2.23. At Opal next-day packages changed hands up 10 cents to $2.33, and gas on El Paso Permian added 11 cents to $2.35.

Market technicians suggested that the failure of futures to move lower might just be the catalyst to eventually turn the market higher. The problem is that it isn't happening.

Last week “double-bottomed” against the Feb. 6 lows, said United ICAP Vice President Walter Zimmermann. "I have been emphasizing that natgas is a market glutted with speculative shorts and that the seasonal risk is to the upside into mid-May. The last time natgas hit a new low was Feb. 6. All those bears are not onboard for congestion. Is the patience of the bears being tested? You bet it is. Just look at Thursday's price action. The bears are not happy.”

The market, however, is perilously close to a technical threshold.

"For three months now, spot natgas has been sitting on the critical $2.580 support that is the must hold for the case for a major multi-year rally,” said Zimmermann. “This fact is both the hope for the bulls and the danger for the bulls. It is the hope because that key $2.580 support continues to hold. It is the danger because after three months of merely holding the must hold, there has been no traction to the upside. Zero. Critical support should propel prices higher."

Tim Evans of Citi Futures Perspective sees natural gas "as conservatively valued with some potential to for a short covering rally. However, the market continues to struggle to locate a fundamental trigger for a move back above the $3 mark."

Buyers for gas-fired generation across the PJM footprint will have only moderate amounts of renewable generation to deal with early this week.

“Variable cloud cover and spring like temperatures are expected much of [Monday] with highs in the 60s and 70s," said forecaster WSI Corp. in a Monday morning note to clients. "An upper-level disturbance and a frontal boundary will lead to periods of rain” Monday night through Wednesday. “A developing east-northeast breeze behind the front will usher cooler air into parts of the Mid Atlantic and northern tier of the power pool by the middle of the week, [and] a better defined frontal system is expected to traverse the power pool during the end of the week with more showers and thunderstorms, which may be strong. Rainfall amounts may range 0.5-2 inches, highest west.

"A south-to-northeast wind will support modest wind generation through the middle of the week with output around 2 GW. The expected frontal system should drive up wind generation during the end of the week with output upward of 3-5 GW."

INTL FC Stone Vice President Tom Saal, in his work with Market Profile, has a somewhat different take on the market. "Market Profile shows the price the market says is 'true value,' aka the mode (most frequent price) for the May 15 contract. The mode is $2.853; prices should revert towards that price until the market seeks another 'true value.'

"Remember...the market determines 'true value;' everything else is just an opinion about true value," he said in a Monday note.

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