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Broad Natural Gas Price Gains Counter Eastern Weakness; Futures Up 6 Cents

Natural gas for Wednesday delivery firmed in Tuesday's trading as broad gains west of the Marcellus were able to offset double-digit losses in the Northeast; overall the market added 3 cents to $2.62.

Take away the outsized declines in the Northeast and Mid-Atlantic and the overall increase is well over a nickel. Futures managed to continue their near-term weather-driven advance to tack on upwards of a nickel as well. At the close, September had risen 6.4 cents to $2.812 and October was up 6.4 cents as well to $2.841. September crude oil gained 57 cents to $45.74/bbl.

Market analysts don't see much longevity to recent futures market strength. Granted, the high-pressure ridge over the South-Central United States as well as Texas is prompting hefty power loads, but that dynamic is expected to dissipate after mid-month.

"We expect that this week's price recovery will ultimately prove short-lived as the normal calendar progression sets the stage for lighter cooling demand and a pick-up in restocking before month-end," said Teri Viswanath, director of natural gas strategy at BNP Paribas.

"Over the past five years, the front September futures contract has declined by an average of $0.32 during the month of August as the market seemingly extracts a discount for waning cooling demand. Because this year's supply excess over demand is much greater, we expect additional seasonal price weakness. With milder weather, prices will need to decline sufficiently to spur fuel-switching demand from the utility sector."

Natgasweather.com in its Tuesday morning report said it sees the weather trend from late Monday continuing into Tuesday and giving a boost to the market. September gained "momentum late in the day with the confirmation of hotter weather patterns in the mid-day data. The overnight data continues this trend as the hot dome of high pressure is expected to expand and strengthen next week," the company said.

"Until then, weather systems out of southern Canada are expected to track across the Great Lakes and northeastern U.S. through this weekend, providing comfortable temperatures over these very important natgas demand regions. This will lead to lighter overall cooling demand compared to last week even though much of the western, central and southern U.S. remains very warm to hot, especially over Texas where the hot ridge is anchored overhead with conditions underneath quite miserable with temperatures into the upper 90s to 105 degrees F, along with high humidity."

"Because Texas typically accounts for largest share of summer utility demand (roughly accounting for 18% over the season), the warmer trend suggests a string of relatively light weekly injections ahead in August," Viswanath said.

Analysts also don't see the market moving much on what is likely to be an inventory report this week showing the leanest build of the season. "This market continues to frustrate both the bulls and the bears as follow-through remains elusive in either direction," said Jim Ritterbusch of Ritterbusch and Associates in a Tuesday morning note to clients.

"While a bearish case can be constructed with the help of this summer's newly acquired supply surplus against average levels, we will further note that the excess supply is comparatively small at only around 85 Bcf, or roughly 3%. Another bout of above-normal temperatures, such as that expected next week, could help to contain this surplus in precluding a test of our support at the $2.65 area. And while this Thursday's supply build [report] will be downsized by as much as 15 Bcf from the prior week's near-average increase, we feel that a sub-50 Bcf number has been fully priced.

"Price levels at Henry Hub contained below the $3 mark throughout this summer might suggest additional gas purchases from the utilities, [but] switching has been impeded to some extent by declining coal prices. On the supply side, production and imports likely saw a modest upswing last week that could keep this week's EIA surprises tilted toward the bearish side. But here also, shifts likely won't prove sufficient to significantly alter the balances. Meanwhile, we see limited opportunities in trading the natural gas curve as virtually all portions appear appropriately priced at current levels. In sum, this remains a market conducive toward option spread strategies designed to capture premium."

In the physical market next-day gas prices in the East were pummeled by sinking next-day power quotes, but in Texas and California, strong peak power prices laid a firm foundation for next-day gas.

Intercontinental Exchange reported that on-peak power for delivery Wednesday at the ISO New England's Massachusetts Hub tumbled $11.74 to $28.26/MWh, and next-day power at the PJM West Hub shed $2.61 to $34.75/MWh.

Gas at the Algonquin Citygates fell 55 cents to $1.71, and deliveries to Iroquois, Waddington rose a nickel to $2.98. Gas on Tenn Zone 6 200L fell 38 cents to $1.78.

Next-day power on ERCOT N rose a stout $3.55 to $44.63/MWh, and in California Wednesday peak power at SP-15 rose $2.10 to $39.86/MWh. Next-day power at NP-15 added 40 cents to $36.93/MWh.

Next-day deliveries at the Houston Ship Channel were quoted at $2.81, up 5 cents, and gas at Carthage came in 7 cents higher at $2.77. Gas on Tennessee Zone 0 South rose 9 cents to $2.73, and parcels on Transco Zone 1 changed hands 8 cents higher at $2.79.

Wednesday deliveries to PG&E Citygate added 6 cents to $3.21, and gas at the SoCal Citygate was seen 3 cents higher at $3.14. Deliveries to the SoCal Border rose 5 cents to $2.96, and gas on El Paso S Mainline gained 3 cents to $2.97.

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