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NatGas Cash Fueled by Western Heat; Futures Settle at Nine-Month High

Weekend and Monday gas surged as expected weather-driven demand prompted traders to score some three-day deals rather than take chances on spot availability over what looked to be a scorcher of a weekend in many parts of the country.

The NGI National Spot Gas Average rose a solid 6 cents to $2.39 and was led by average gains in California of about 30 cents and an average advance at Rockies points of close to 20 cents. Futures prices rose, enabled by firm cash quotes and an overall healthy petroleum sector. The July settlement was the highest in more than nine months. At the close July had risen 4.3 cents to $2.623, and August was higher by 3.9 cents to $2.666. July crude oil vaulted $1.77 to $47.98/bbl.

California and Rockies locations led the charge higher, fueled by forecasts of triple-digit temperatures. AccuWeather.com forecast that Friday's high in Los Angeles of 84 degrees would hold Saturday, but by Monday the high was expected to reach 103, 24 degrees above normal. Sacramento's Friday high of 80 was seen rising to 83 Saturday and 97 by Monday, 9 degrees above its seasonal norm. In Denver the Friday high of 87 was forecast to jump to 94 Saturday before settling down to 86 Monday, the seasonal norm.

Weekend and Monday gas at Malin rose 17 cents to $2.54, and gas at the PG&E Citygate gained 24 cents to $2.79. Deliveries at the SoCal Citygate surged 43 cents to $3.02, and gas priced at the SoCal Border Avg. rose 44 cents to $2.84. Packages on El Paso S Mainline added a stout 46 cents to $2.91.

Regulators in southern California aren't taking any chances on power blackouts. Air pollution regulators on Thursday granted a variance to the nation's largest municipal utility in Los Angeles to burn diesel fuel in three local generation plants, if necessary, to conserve on constrained amounts of natural gas due to the continuing shutdown at Southern California Gas Co.'s Aliso Canyon storage facility (see related story).

The exceptional temperatures were expected to prompt large variances in cooling loads. Industry consultant Genscape said its metrics were "forecasting Lower 48 population-weighted CDDs [cooling degree days] will reach as high as 141 CDDs by Monday, which is about 47 CDDs above normal for this time of year. CDDs are forecast to remain well above normal through the remainder of the week.

"All regions are expected to experience the above-normal temperatures, but the most extreme deviations are forecast to hit the Northeast (peaking at 9.6 CDDs on Tuesday vs. normal of 6.5); New England (peaking at 8.2 CDDs on Tuesday vs. normal of 3.6); Southern California (peaking Monday at 22.1 CDDs vs. normal 7.3); and Midwest (peaking Monday at 14.4 CDDs vs. normal 5.2)."

Double-digit gains in on-peak Monday power prices in California also aided the cause of higher weekend and Monday gas. Intercontinental Exchange reported that Monday on-peak power deliverable to NP-15 rose $18.48 to $46.38/MWh and on-peak power at SP-15 gained $26.41 to $54.21/MWh.

Rockies quotes also participated in the weather-driven advance. Gas at the Cheyenne Hub was quoted 11 cents higher at $2.41, and packages on CIG added 14 cents to $2.41. Gas at Opal gained 17 cents to $2.47, and gas on Transwestern San Juan changed hands 25 cents higher at $2.62.

Other prominent market centers, for the most part, rose or fell a few pennies. Gas on Dominion South fell 5 cents to $1.61, and deliveries to the Henry Hub slid 3 cents to $2.58. Gas at the Chicago Citygate added 4 cents to $2.54, and packages on El Paso Permian rose 24 cents to $2.60.

Futures traders see the day's settlement of the July contract very positively. "We are looking at some good numbers here," said a New York floor trader. "Natural gas did get some help from the other markets, crude oil was up almost $2, but much of the move natural gas did on its own.

"$2.50 and $2.75 are now support and resistance numbers."

Going forward, traders see weather as the near-term price driver but also don't see much more than another 10 cents higher in spot futures.

"We are still viewing the short-term temperature views that are now stretching out to about month's end as sufficiently supportive to force fresh highs into the $2.63-2.68 area that we still view as a favorable sell zone in referencing July futures," said Jim Ritterbusch of Ritterbusch and Associates in closing comments to clients Thursday.

"While conceding to additional contraction in the supply surplus of another 25-30 Bcf or so in next week's EIA report, we still see upside to above $2.68 as extremely limited given a supply surplus of 704 Bcf per today's release. Thus far, a hot start to the summer has accomplished the task of downsizing the storage injections in precluding the need of low prices to accomplish such a task. From here, weather will remain as the main price motivator. But we still see the first significant sustainable cool down as capable of forcing a weak expiration to the July contract. As we shift focus to the August futures contract, any short positions established within the $2.68-2.73 zone should be established or maintained with stop protection above the $2.75 level on a close only basis."

Buyers for gas-fired power generation in ERCOT were expected to have their hands full over the weekend dealing with triple-digit heat as well as fluctuating renewables. It was expected to be hot, with highs in the 90s to 105 F range. "Elevated humidity levels will push the heat index into the upper 90s to 110 F range," said WSI Corp. in its Friday morning forecast. "An east-southeast flow off the Gulf of Mexico will increase during Sunday into early next week, [and] this will promote increasing cloud cover and a chance of scattered showers/storms, which will cause temperatures to ease downward into the 90s to near 100.

"A diurnally fluctuating southerly wind will support elevated wind generation during the next day or two, but this will relax during Sunday into early next week. Late night output maxima will peak 6-9 GW, but subside to 2-4 GW during the middle of the day. Hazy sunshine will bolster solar gen during the next couple of days, but increasing clouds will dampen total solar prospects during Sunday into early next week."

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