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Futures Can't Match Firm NatGas Physical Market; July Drops 8 Cents

Natural gas for delivery Tuesday traded every which way but loose Monday as monster gains in the East and Northeast were able to overcome some small declines in the Gulf, Midcontinent, and Rockies. Overall, NGI’s National Spot Gas Average added 8 cents to $2.61.

Futures prices were pummeled as weather forecasts over the weekend changed leaving key market areas more moderate. At the close July had dropped 8.3 cents to $2.733 and August had fallen 7.8 cents to $2.762. The July crude oil contract expired at $59.68/bbl. up 7 cents.

In the Northeast prices surged as next-day power prices increased and load forecasts called for higher power usage levels. IntercontinentalExchange reported on peak power Tuesday at the ISO New England's Massachusetts Hub rose $9.56 to $40.26/MWh and on-peak deliveries to the PJM West Hub jumped $21.33 to $75.12/MWh.

Next-day gas at the Algonquin Citygates vaulted 98 cents to $2.51 and Tuesday parcels at Iroquois Waddington added 21 cents to $2.92. Gas on Tennessee Zone 6 200 L rose 92 cents to $2.51.

Mid-Atlantic points also joined in the procession higher. Gas bound for New York City on Transco Zone 6 gained 26 cents to $3.01 and packages on Tetco M-3 changed hands 29 cents higher at $1.70.

Gulf points were mostly lower. Gas on Transco Zone 3 added a penny to $2.79 and gas at the Henry Hub was quoted 4 cents lower at $2.77. Gas on Tennessee 500 L shed a penny to $2.77, and gas at Katy was flat at $2.74.

Power loads were expected to be sharply higher Tuesday. ISO New England forecast peak load Monday of 19,690 MW would rise to 21,250 MW Tuesday before backing off to 19,130 MW Wednesday. The New York ISO predicted peak power of 25,461 MW Monday would jump to 26,378 MW Tuesday before slipping to 23,927 MW Wednesday.

Expected warmth drove the whole weather-power load-spot gas price matrix with forecaster Wunderground.com predicting Boston's Monday high of 77 would rise to 83 Tuesday and 80 on Wednesday. The seasonal high in Boston this time of year is 78. New York City's 89 high was seen pushing to 92 Tuesday before easing to 85 Wednesday. The normal mid-June high in New York is 81.

Futures traders saw little in the day's trading activity to warrant any kind of change in their assessment. "Nothing has changed as far as I am concerned. We are still in a $2.50 to $3.00 trading range," said a New York floor trader.

In a low volatility trading environment such as is currently the case, options strategies attempting to capture premium might seem feasible, and "you might think traders would try and sell $3 calls and $2.50 puts, but the activity in the options ring has been slow also.

"There is no indication of this market rallying," the trader said.

Not only did traders have to cope with moderating overnight weather models for key Midwest and eastern energy markets, but forecasters noted strong agreement among different models. "While we still have some lingering impacts of the departing hot pattern this week across the Midwest, South  and East (99 F forecast for DC tomorrow), the six-15 day period is dominated by the upcoming new pattern type, with heat ridging toward the Pacific Northwest, Western Canada, and out into the Gulf of Alaska. Southward extension into California provided some warmer to hotter changes to our forecast today," said Matt Rogers, president of Commodity Weather Group, in a Monday morning report.

"Otherwise, cooling trends and changes dominate today's weather update for the South, Midwest and East. The cool trough axis mainly sits over the Midwest and extends to the South (more toward Texas than Southeast), so this sometimes leaves the door open for briefly hotter spikes on the East Coast ahead of cold fronts. It would not be the consistent heat like seen in recent weeks, but we will have to watch for volatility. Otherwise, the models are in excellent agreement on holding this pattern through day 15 (July 6)."

Regarding the weather-price dynamic, Teri Viswanath, director of natural gas strategy at BNP Paribas said in a morning note that "the market has become increasingly shortsighted on weather developments, with any moderation in the heat triggering another round of selling.   What's more, much of the extended pipeline maintenance is expected to conclude by next week, enabling production to rise in July.  Without the ongoing support of strong cooling demand, gas prices will have to decline to encourage enough demand to absorb surplus production."

Risk managers are keeping their powder dry. In a weekly note to clients, Mike DeVooght, president of Colorado-based DEVO Capital, said, "Moderate temperatures throughout much of the United States have kept demand flat. Natural gas has been range bound between $2.60 and $3.00 for the calendar year.

"Due to strong supply of natural gas along with the current demand outlook, we feel prices should continue to trade within this range. On a trade basis, we will stand aside for now and will continue to monitor the market."

Others see a near-term bias lower. "The short-term technicals still favor the bears," said Brian LaRose of United ICAP after the close Friday."So despite the rally Friday, we have little incentive to be buyers just yet. What could have us changing our tune? A move back above the $2.965-2.988 area would be helpful for starters. Barring a move above resistance or a bullish shift on the technicals would prefer to sit tight and wait for a more definitive entry signal, be it long or short."

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