Physical natural gas for Tuesday delivery rose sharply in Monday's trading as traders factored in higher next-day power demand and may have had to balance accounts for shortfalls incurred over the weekend.
Gains were greatest in the Northeast where prices on average jumped to close to a 50-cent gain, and shippers had to navigate pipeline restrictions. The NGI National Spot Gas Average added a stout 15 cents to $2.21. Elsewhere gains were broad, and with the exception of a few locations most market points rose by double digits.
Futures trading was not nearly as inspired. At the close, November had fallen a minuscule 0.1 cent to $2.450 and December had added 1.2 cents to $2.676. November crude oil added 72 cents to $46.26/bbl.
In the Northeast, pipeline restrictions and a firm power price environment prompted $1-plus jumps at some locations. Algonquin Gas Transmission (AGT) reported the continuation of an existing OFO but also reported restrictions west of its Stony Point Compressor Station as well as at the Southeast and Cromwell stations. AGT added that "capacity may become available as the nomination and confirmation process continues throughout the day."
Next-day gas at the Algonquin Citygate vaulted $1.57 to $3.04, and gas at Iroquois, Waddington surged 48 cents to $2.74. Gas on Tenn Zone 6 200L gained a hefty $1.58 to $2.89.
Intercontinental Exchange reported that on-peak power for Tuesday delivery at the ISO New England Hub added $6.89 to $34.45/MWh and power delivered Tuesday to the PJM West Hub gained $3.86 to $36.36/MWh. PJM Interconnection reported that forecast peak load Monday of 30,590 MW would increase to 31,797 MW Tuesday.
Other market hubs rose as well. Gas at the Chicago Citygate rose 7 cents to $2.35, and deliveries to the Henry Hub added 6 cents to $2.32. Gas on El Paso Permian jumped 12 cents to $2.25, and packages headed for the SoCal Citygate rose a stout 32 cents to $2.64.
Production gains are becoming more difficult. In a report, Genscape, a Louisville, KY-based provider of real-time data and intelligence for commodity and energy markets, said, "Lower 48 production continues to plateau since the April 2015 peak. Gains in the East region are mainly being offset by losses in the Producing and West regions. Overall, Lower 48 dry gas production has been fluctuating between 74 and 72 Bcf/d since April 2015. A higher than expected maintenance season, combined with low oil and gas prices are all contributing to the plateau in production."
Futures traders said activity was light but viewed technical support at "$2.40 initially, and $2.35 under that. It's inevitable that we will see higher numbers," a New York floor trader told NGI.
Risk managers are looking for a lower spot to enter the long side of the market. "The gas market has been under pressure this entire summer because of moderate temperatures, plentiful supply and plummeting commodities in general," said Mike DeVooght, president of DEVO Capital, a Colorado-based trading and risk management firm. "As we look forward to the heat season, which can often be supportive to the gas market, demand expectations have been ratcheted lower because of the El Nino.
"On a trade basis, we have been looking for an opportunity to get long the natural gas market but have not felt like we have yet reached the bottom of this move. We would start to be a light buyer if January reaches the $2.50 level." DeVooght recommends buying January futures for both end-users and trading accounts should the contract trade that low. January futures settled at $2.798 Friday.
All indications are that the El Nino will be one of the strongest on record. "The atmospheric response to the equatorial sea-surface temperature anomalies, measured by their atmospheric ENSO index, is the strongest event since at least 1948," said Todd Crawford, a meteorologist at WSI Corp.
Typical impacts of an El Nino are the southern United States from California to the Carolinas then up through parts of the East Coast become wetter, but parts of the Ohio Valley, Great Lakes, Northwest and Northern Rockies are drier.
The desert Southwest, Southern Plains, northern Gulf Coast are cooler, but the northern tier of states from the Pacific Northwest to the Northern Plains, Great Lakes and Northeast are warmer. "These are impacts that are typically expected, but they aren't always the rule," The Weather Channel said.
Tom Saal, vice president at FC Stone Latin America LLC, put it succinctly: "El Nino means low gas prices."
One analyst doesn't see too much downside remaining in the near term, but the spring contracts could be highly vulnerable to high ending inventories.
"While the most extreme cold scenario would have the market exiting March at over 1 Tcf, assuming a production average of around 72.5 Bcf/d through the five months, a warm scenario has the potential to drive that level well above record highs. Thus we see the March through May contracts as highly vulnerable to downside pressure under anything less than a normal to cold weather scenario," said Breanne Dougherty, an analyst with Societe Generale in New York, in a report.
"We don't see much material downside left here given how the market has bounced off the $2.55/MMBtu level all summer and the lack of risk of storage containment type price pressure. We see the curve as predisposed to upside from here through mid-December...beyond that, though, we are bearish through June 2016."