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NatGas Cash, Futures Eke Out Small Gains on Monday

It was a tale of two markets in Monday trading for Tuesday physical natural gas deliveries, but sharp losses at eastern points were unable to overcome broad gains at most other market points.

TheNGI National Spot Gas Average added 1 cent to $1.41. Most eastern points averaged drops of more than a dime. Futures trading was uninspired, with the spot April contract adding 2.4 cents to $1.690, and May gained 0.02 of 1 cent to $1.789. April crude oil rose $1.98 to $37.90/bbl.

Short-term traders don't see anything substantive in the near term capable of rallying the market.

"These advances seem like nothing more than short covering," a New York floor trader told NGI. "If we could get a 15-cent to 20-cent move to the upside, and it starts to feed on itself, that could bring in more short covering, but if you put a gun to my head I couldn't tell you if we are going to $1.50 or $1.85.”

Longer term, analysts echo the sentiment of short-term traders, but not in such colorful terms.

"Bearish pressure abounds, with gas prices now trading consistently below the $1.70/MMBtu level," said Societe Generale (SG) analyst Breanne Dougherty. "We expected some pretty good [support] at the level, and there was, but also as per our expectation, an extended mild weather forecast has introduced an even looser end of season withdrawal pattern, which has added additional bearish pressure. SG technical analysis indicates [support] at $1.60/MMBtu, and then again at $1.53/MMBtu.

"We continue to warn that as the market loses the final little bit of winter heating demand and enters firmly into the shoulder season it will be hard to establish ledger tightening, at least initially. This should continue to keep bearish pressure on price, or at least eliminate potential for much upside movement, over the next six weeks. Power generation resiliency, and hopefully outperformance, is really what the market will be watching for. Of course, a little production softening would be welcomed too."

Market technicians are taking a close look at the difference between front month price action and the calendar strips.

"The question now, is the bullish sentiment we are seeing in the back of the curve about to spill over to the front?" asked United ICAP analyst Brian Larose. "To signal the bears have lost control, bulls would need to push natgas up and over $1.892-1.963. We have no reason to entertain bottoming action otherwise."

FCStone Latin America LLC Vice President Tom Saal, in his work with Market Profile said the declining "weekly profiles reveal solid selling by professional speculators. Eventually, expect short-covering by these traders to profit from these shorts trades."

Saal is looking for the market to test weekly value areas at $1.734 to $1.660, then $1.893 to $1.781. "Eventually," he expects a test of $1.999 to $1.947 and $2.223 to $2.084.

The trend of warming weather forecasts continued with Sunday overnight model runs.

"The coverage and intensity of warmer-than-normal anomalies over the next two weeks continues to be impressive, and we report demand losses compared to our outlook from Friday yet again," said Commodity Weather Group President Matt Rogers in a report.

"The biggest warmth versus normal continues to be over the Midwest, with the East Coast in second place and then the South following. The West is still more mixed, with storminess issues in especially the one-10 day range. The models trend drier for the 11-15 day, but there are signs of renewed split flow at the end that could bring rains/snows back to California once more.”

In physical market trading, Monday’s biggest movers proved to be East Coast points, as lower power prices and loads combined to make incremental purchases of gas for power generation less attractive. Intercontinental Exchange reported that on-peak power Tuesday at the ISO New England's Massachusetts Hub fell $6.05 to $18.95/MWh, and next-day power at the PJM West terminal fell $3.35 to $23.76/MWh.

At the New York ISO's Zone A delivery point (western New York), on-peak power fell $9.78 to $29.72/MWh, and at the Zone G delivery terminal (eastern New York) shed $2.73 to $21.07/MWh.

Next-day gas at the Algonquin Citygate fell 57 cents to $1.50, and deliveries to Iroquois, Waddington skidded 11 cents to $1.70. Gas on Tennessee Zone 6 200 L fell 51 cents to $1.53.

Gas on Texas Eastern M-3, Delivery dropped 11 cents to 90 cents, and gas on Transco Zone 6 headed for New York City fell 14 cents to $1.10.

Forecast power loads did little to instill enthusiasm for incremental gas purchases. ISO New England predicted Monday's peak load of 16,600 MW would fall to 15,970 MW Tuesday before reaching 15,570 MW Wednesday. The New York ISO forecast peak load Monday of 19,490 MW was expected to ease to 18,943 MW Tuesday before sliding to 18,849 MW Wednesday.

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