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Cash NatGas Gains; Futures Can't Handle 4 Tcf Storage; December Drops 7 Cents

Physical gas for Friday delivery proved far stronger than floundering futures in Thursday's trading.

Typically traders will get their deals done before the potential volatility-enhancing Energy Information Administration (EIA) inventory report, but Midwest temperature trends proved supportive along with a resilient next-day power market to keep a bid under the market.

The NGI National Spot Gas Average added 8 cents to $2.12 and eastern quotes were up about 20 cents. EIA reported a storage build of 15 Bcf, about 3 Bcf shy of market expectations, and futures looked strong for a while following the release of storage numbers. At the end of the session, however, December had fallen 7.1 cents to $2.276 and January was off 8.3 cents to $2.412. December crude oil fell 21 cents to $4.054/bbl.

Despite the poor showing by futures, analysts remain long term bullish. "We remain bullish on gas in the longer term, as production is down about 1 Bcf/d from the April high and growth is likely to be slowed by pipeline constraints in the near term," said New York-based Jefferies LLC's equities researchers. "U.S. Natural gas storage saw a second refill during the traditional withdrawal season as temperatures remained above normal and production is about 2 Bcf/d higher year over year. Storage reached 4.0 Tcf for the first time, while setting a record storage level for the third consecutive week."

Should a storage build materialize next week, it would be the latest since 2012. "If storage again fills next week (and sets a fourth consecutive record), it would be the first storage fill this late in the season (third week of November), since 2012. Of the 20 years on record, storage inventories have only experienced a refill during this week three times. In 2014, the third week of November saw inventories fall by 162 Bcf as the Northeast was hit with early season snowfall and temperatures below normal," the firm said.

Navigating the 10:30 a.m. EST storage report required more than the usual amount of dexterity. Traders not only had to deal with a new five-region format (see Daily GPI, Sept. 30), but on Monday the EIA revised the earlier storage report for the week ended Nov. 7 upwards by 5 Bcf. Along with other revisions total working gas stood [before the report] at 3,985 Bcf. The EIA said that the differences were due to internal massaging of the data and not any change in the data they receive from those they survey.

If that weren't enough, traders also had to factor in widely varying estimates for the week ended Nov. 13. Last year, 9 Bcf was withdrawn, and the five-year tally is for a 12 Bcf pull. A Reuters survey of 23 traders and analysts revealed a range from a 5 Bcf injection to a 50 Bcf increase. The average was 18 Bcf, enough to put total storage just a scooch over 4 Tcf at 4,003 Bcf.

Industry consultant Genscape calculated an 8 Bcf increase, and PIRA Energy figured on a fill of 22 Bcf.

Traders also had to work with the new five-region format and some see future estimates as being less varied. "The new format really didn't change anything, but it should refine some of the ranges, because we were getting ridiculous ranges of the estimates," a New York floor trader told NGI. "The high range on today's estimates was +50 Bcf. How can you be that far apart? I had heard earlier in the week plus 5 Bcf to plus 9 Bcf, and I was more on the lower end."

Tim Evans of Citi Futures Perspective said the 4 Tcf level was widely anticipated. "We see a further minor 7 Bcf build for the week ending November 20 to be followed by some robust storage withdrawals as the forecast cycle of cold has its impact on heating demand."

The new five-region format is designed to further enhance market transparency and acknowledge a new market configuration featuring the a newly formatted East Region along with 4 others. Inventories now stand at 4,000 Bcf and are 404 Bcf greater than last year and 207 Bcf more than the five-year average. In the East Region 5 Bcf was injected, and the Midwest Region saw inventories increase by 7 Bcf. Stocks in the Mountain Producing Region fell by 3 Bcf, and the Pacific Region saw supplies slide by 1 Bcf. The South Central Region, similar to the former Producing Region, added 7 Bcf.

Another new record is in the cards for next week as forecast heating loads suggest another build. Estimates by the National Weather Service (NWS) show continuing below-normal heating requirements in major population centers. For the week ending Nov. 21, NWS predicts that New England will see 145 heating degree days (HDD), or 29 below normal, and the Mid-Atlantic, including New York, New Jersey and Pennsylvania, will experience 116 HDD, or 44 fewer than its normal seasonal tally. The greater Midwest from Ohio to Wisconsin should have just 116 HDD as well, or 67 below normal.

In physical market trading prices advanced as temperature trends projected cooler readings for the end of the week. Forecaster Wunderground.com predicted that the high Thursday in Chicago of 43 would rise to 48 by Friday before dropping to 39 and snow by Saturday. The normal high in Chicago this time of year is 47. Minneapolis' forecast high Thursday of 33 was seen rising to 35 Friday before sliding to 28 on Saturday. The seasonal high in Minneapolis is 38.

Gas at the Chicago Citygate rose 6 cents to $2.27, and deliveries to Alliance gained 6 cents to $2.28. Deliveries on Consumers changed hands at $2.22, up 3 cents, and gas on Michigan Consolidated finished the day 4 cents higher at $2.23.

The lucrative price spread between Marcellus/Utica gas and the downstream market points on the newly reconfigured REX Zone 3 expansion continues to narrow. REX Zone 3 points gained, but Marcellus locations gained more.

Deliveries to Midwestern Pipeline in Edgar County, IL, and also to NGPL at Moultrie County, IL, rose 5 cents to $2.16. Gas on Panhandle Eastern in Putnam County, IN, rose 6 cents to $2.17.

Parcels on Dominion South, however, rose by 12 cents to $1.54, and gas on Tennessee Zn 4 Marcellus were quoted a dime higher at $1.33. Deliveries on Transco-Leidy Line jumped 15 cents to $1.44.

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