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Weak Natural Gas Cash Prices Can't Match Modest Futures Gains

Natural gas for next-day delivery at New England points scored some hefty gains in Tuesday's trading, but that was much the exception to the rule.

Advances at Northeast and Appalachian points were unable to offset declines in the Southeast, Gulf, Midcontinent and Midwest points. The NGI National Spot Gas Average fell 6 cents to $2.53. Meanwhile, futures managed to unconvincingly meander higher, with August rising 3.2 cents to $2.734 and September adding 1.6 cents to $2.700. August crude oil jumped $2.04 to $46.80/bbl.

Solid gains in next-day power pricing made incremental purchases of gas for power generation in New England more attractive. Intercontinental Exchange reported that on-peak power at ISO New England's Massachusetts Hub rose $6.96 to $41.98/MWh and next-day power at New York ISO' Zone G (eastern New York) delivery point added $10.62 to $43.29/MWh.

Next-day gas at the Algonquin Citygate gained 15 cents to $3.05, and deliveries to Iroquois, Waddington added 6 cents to $2.84. Gas on Tenn Zone 6 200L added 19 cents to $3.06.

The dynamic of ever-rising forecast temperatures failed to play out at Midwest locations, and next-day gas eased about a nickel. Temperatures were expected to be above normal, but the trend in temperatures was clearly downward. AccuWeather.com forecast that the high Tuesday in Chicago of 90 degrees would slip to 88 Wednesday and 86 by Thursday, 1 degree above normal. Detroit's Tuesday high of 91 was seen easing to 89 Wednesday and 88 by Thursday, still 5 degrees above normal.

Gas on Alliance skidded a nickel to $2.68, and deliveries to the Chicago Citygate shed 5 cents to $2.72. Parcels on Michigan Consolidated were off by 7 cents to $2.68, and gas on Consumers changed hands at $2.70, down 7 cents also.

Upstream Marcellus gas gained relative to its downstream market points on the REX Zone 3 Expansion. Marcellus locations mostly averaged gains, but market points in Illinois and Indiana lost nearly a dime.

Gas on Dominion South rose 3 cents to $1.38, and gas on Tennessee Zn 4 Marcellus changed hands a dime higher at $1.39. Deliveries to Transco-Leidy Line, however, were off a penny to $1.42.

At the NGPL interconnect with REX Zone 3 gas flowing west at Moultrie County, IL, next-day deliveries were quoted 9 cents lower at $2.65, and gas at the Trunkline junction in Douglas County, IL, fell 8 cents to $2.65. Packages on REX Zone 3 at the Shelby County, IN, market point on ANR skidded 9 cents to $2.65 as well.

Futures traders didn't see all that much significance to the day's advance. "It just ticked a little higher and a little lower compared to Monday's settlement," said a New York floor trader. "The trading base seems intact, but the market doesn't seem to have much rally left in it. If that base of support starts getting chipped into, you may see traders start bailing on their long positions."

For the moment, though, traders see the path of least resistance to be higher. "Lack of significant chart support or resistance within the $2.70-2.90 zone is keeping this market highly sensitive to even modest adjustments in the short-term temperature views," said Jim Ritterbusch of Ritterbusch and Associates in a Tuesday morning report to clients.

"This was on display [Monday] as the market plunged by some 7% as some of the models indicated less heat than the forecasts issued within the weekend updates. But at the end of the day, most outlooks continued to favor above-normal patterns spread broadly across the U.S. that will likely keep injections downsized appreciably through the rest of this month.

"Our expected 47 Bcf build on Thursday will likely receive a bearish interpretation in potentially keeping nearby futures gravitating toward the $2.70 area depending upon weather updates. Nonetheless, we still see the supply surplus contracting by more than 100 Bcf this month in potentially keeping end-of-season stocks downsized to around 4 Tcf relative to most ideas of a month or two ago that favored supply at around 4.2 Tcf or more. As long as temperatures remain warm enough to maintain the dynamic of surplus contraction amidst a need to sustain some hurricane premium, upside price risk will exceed that to the downside."

In a Tuesday morning report, Natgasweather.com said it looks for continued warm temperatures for the next week punctuated by periodic systems expected to graze more northern latitudes. "Hot high pressure continues dominating the central and southern U.S., with widespread 90s to 100s, including all of Texas. A weather system that brought cooling over the Great Lakes, Mid-Atlantic and Northeast this past weekend is exiting with rapid warming expected early this week to again push highs back into the upper 80s to lower 90s, including Chicago, and then major Northeast cities later in the week.

"However, yet another weather system tracking across the north-central U.S. mid-week will provide cooling over these same regions late in the week. Over the West, systems off the Pacific will keep conditions cool over the Northwest and northern Rockies, but still hot across the Southwest. Overall, natgas demand will be moderate to high over the next seven days."

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