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Strong East Lifts Otherwise Flat NatGas Market; Futures Add 3 Cents

Physical natural gas for Wednesday delivery managed to work higher in Tuesday trading, led in large part by a strong eastern power market.

Some eastern points jumped by $1 or more, and the NGI National Daily Spot Gas Average added 9 cents to $1.56. Eastern points, on average, scored advances of near 40 cents, but steady prices were seen in Texas, the Gulf Coast, Midwest, Midcontinent and California. Futures managed to inch higher, with April adding 3.1 cents to $1.742 and May up by 4.0 cents to $1.848. April crude oil gained 65 cents to $34.40/bbl.

Next-day power prices at eastern points provided a firm foundation to make incremental gas purchases for electric power generation. Intercontinental Exchange reported that on-peak power at the ISO New England's Massachusetts Hub gained $6.31 to $28.54/MWh and Wednesday on-peak power at the PJM West terminal rose $5.00 to $30.14/MWh. Next-day peak power at the Indiana Hub added $1.72 to $25.72/MWh.

Gas at the Algonquin Citygate jumped $1.02 to $2.98, and deliveries to Iroquois, Waddington added 20 cents to $1.98. Gas on Tenn Zone 6 200L tacked on $1.11 to $3.04.

Gas on Texas Eastern M-3, Delivery rose 27 cents to $1.31, and gas bound for New York City on Transco Zone 6 rose 49 cents to $1.61.

Major trading hubs were largely mixed. Gas at the Chicago Citygate was quoted 4 cents higher at $1.72, yet deliveries to Henry Hub shed 5 cents to $1.57. Gas on Kern River traded flat at $1.40, and at the SoCal Citygate Wednesday deliveries changed hands 3 cents lower at $1.64.

Forecast Wednesday power loads helped elevate next-day power and in turn lift next-day gas. ISO New England reported that peak power load Tuesday of 16,600 MW would rise to 17,150 MW Wednesday before increasing further Thursday to 17,450 MW. PJM Interconnection reported that peak load Tuesday of 32,756 MW would jump to 37,920 MW Wednesday before easing Thursday to 36,993 MW.

Weather forecasts called for temperatures to fluctuate around seasonal norms. AccuWeather.com predicted that Boston's high of 43 degrees Tuesday would jump to 52 Wednesday before falling to 34 Thursday. The normal high in Boston in early March is 42. New York City's forecast Tuesday high of 49 was expected to rise to 50 Wednesday and slide to 39 Thursday, 6 degrees below normal.

Fluctuating temperatures notwithstanding, the National Weather Service (NWS) forecasts below normal heating requirements for the East and Midwest. For the week ended March 5, NWS predicts New England will see 206 heating degree days (HDD), or 31 below normal. New York, New Jersey and Pennsylvania should experience 193 HDD, or 25 below normal. The greater Midwest from Ohio to Wisconsin is anticipated to have 219 HDD, or 11 less than normal.

Market technicians have some hope that the market can hold the December lows. "[We] still see an opportunity for further consolidation...so long natgas can hold $1.682," said Brian LaRose, a market technician with United ICAP. "However, after Monday's price action that does not look promising. Take out $1.682 and the next step down targets $1.558-1.585. Reminder: as far as the big picture is concerned a break beneath $1.617 (0.618 of (III)=(V) from 6.493) officially opens the door for a slide to $1.074-1.004 (III)=(V) from 6.493)."

Fundamentals analysts see continued robust production as the albatross around the market's neck. "This remains a market much in need of some production restraint but one that is seeing negligible signs of such a development," said Jim Ritterbusch of Ritterbusch and Associates in a Tuesday morning note to clients. "[Monday's] official EIA monthly indications for December posted only a minuscule decline of 0.3% from November. More importantly, output at the end of last year was still being indicated some 2% above a year ago.

"As a result, the output factor is providing no match for increasingly mild near-record temperature outlooks that have shown up in the updated one- to two-week temperature expectations during the past weekend and within [Monday's] noon models. As a consequence, the market is being forced to discount a major acceleration in the supply surplus against average levels amid mounting concerns that storage capacity could be challenged next fall unless prices are downsized sufficiently to deter output during the upcoming spring-summer period."

Forecasters are seeing their models resembling the warm pattern of December. Commodity Weather Group in its Tuesday morning report said, "After a few weeks of volatility, we are now seeing the models 'settle in' to a more a consistently warm pattern like we experienced back in December. The models generally agree that the six-10 day is currently the warmest period following some brief cold late this week in the East.

"Widespread much and strong above normal anomalies are featured on all three ensemble feeds, which continues to provide warmer risks to our outlook. The 11-15 day removes the strong above contours but still favors a large area of much above normal temperatures for the Midwest to East and into the Southeast," said Matt Rogers, president of the firm.

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