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Forecast Power Loads Prompt Soaring Eastern NatGas Cash Prices; Futures Follow Crude, Equities Lower

Weekend and Monday natural gas buyers weren't taking any chances of getting caught shorthanded Friday as a surging Monday power market sent strong signals to anyone contemplating going into the weekend short.

Forecast strong loads and double-digit power price gains were enough to lift average eastern prices close to $1.50, and the NGI National Spot Gas Average rose by 28 cents to $2.45.

Futures had a hard time getting out of their own way and were caught in a mix of a softening weather outlook and a maelstrom of selling in petroleum and equity markets.

At the close, February was down 3.9 cents to $2.100, and March was off 5.3 cents to $2.127. February crude oil settled below $30 at $29.42, down $1.78, and the Dow Jones Industrial Average plummeted 391 points to 15,988, capping the worst 10-day start to a year in history.

Gas traders at eastern locations were unperturbed and looked to lay in supplies for what looked to be a busy holiday weekend. The New York ISO and PJM Interconnection both forecast a stout increase in power load by Monday.

New York ISO predicted system peak load Friday of 20,330 MW would make its normal weekend dip to 18,884 Saturday and then surge to 21,481 MW by Monday. The broad PJM grid was expected to see Friday's peak load of 36,278 MW slip to 33,309 MW Saturday but vault to 42,180 MW Monday.

Gas and power prices responded accordingly. Weekend and Monday gas bound for New York City on Transco Zone 6 jumped $4.41 to $6.58, and gas on Texas Eastern M-3, Delivery added $1.08 to $2.69.

Deliveries to the Algonquin Citygate jumped $1.31 to average $4.77, and packages at Iroquois, Waddington rose by 94 cents to $3.39. Gas on Tenn Zone 6 200L added 94 cents to $4.19.

Intercontinental Exchange reported that Monday on-peak power at the ISO New England's Massachusetts Hub rose by $20.66 to $54.30/MWh, and deliveries to the New York ISO's Zone G delivery point Monday surged $26.50 to $59.50/MWh. On-peak power at the PJM West terminal gained a stout $21.92 to $46.11/MWh.

In Appalachia, a major delivery enhancement was made to the REX Zone 3 East to West Expansion. REX announced Thursday the addition of the REX/Ohio River System Bear Wallow receipt point.

"This was supposed to come online during 4Q2015 but was probably delayed due to the state of the industry," said NGI Market Analyst Nate Harrison. "The Ohio River System is now the largest Zone 3 receipt point to come online by operational capacity and currently accounts for 27.4% of total REX Zone 3 receipt capacity.

"Utilization on opening day is unsurprisingly small with only 15.5% of the point's available 842 MMcf in use. The addition brings total Zone 3 capacity to 3,073,MMcf/d."

Prices at Marcellus points were mixed. Gas on Tennessee Zn 4 Marcellus fell a penny to $1.32, and deliveries to Transco-Leidy Line added 2 cents to $1.37. Gas on Dominion South, however, jumped 23 cents to $1.65.

Natural gas traders aren't immune to the weak petroleum sector.

"Although this market appears to be getting swept up in bearish spillover from the new lows in the liquids, the temperature factor has also seen a swing to the bearish side in recent days," said Jim Ritterbusch in a Friday morning report to clients. "Adding to downside momentum was Thursday's smaller than expected storage withdrawal that fell short of street ideas by about 7-8 Bcf. Furthermore, chart deterioration following Thursday's support violation at the $2.19 level is prompting liquidation of fresh spec longs that were established late last year, to move to the sidelines.

"But, although our acceptance of profits out of short holdings in Thursday's trade appears premature, we are not ruling out another price pop back to above the $2.20 mark next week following possible cold adjustments to the short-term temperature views during the upcoming extended holiday weekend. But we will also note that the weather factor will soon be subsiding in importance given this late stage of the heavy usage cycle. This will force greater focus on nonweather related items such as production, coal to gas displacement and industrial usage."

Gas buyers for weekend power generation across the broad MISO footprint look to have plenty of renewables generation to offset gas purchases.

"A weak and fleeting storm system will support a chance for light snow and rain [Friday], mainly east," WSI Corp. said Friday morning. "A northerly flow behind this system and subsequent arctic cold front will drive the next shot of bitterly cold arctic air into the power pool during the weekend into early next week.

"This air-mass may be even colder than last weekend as sub-zero minimum temps will return to the north along with highs hard pressed to rise into the single digits and teens. The storm system and influx of arctic air will likely cause wind generation to rebound during today into the weekend. Output is forecast to top out between 7-9 GW. Wind generation will likely decrease and become light by Monday."

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