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Weekend SoCal Prices Scorched; NatGas Cash Leads Futures Higher

Traders of natural gas for weekend and Monday delivery weren't taking any chances on getting caught behind the weather curve Friday and sent prices sharply higher at California and eastern points.

Weather-driven gains were common at nearly all points, and the NGI National Spot Gas Average added a stout 13 cents to $2.66. Futures traders weren't above holding long positions over the weekend. At the close, August had risen 8.5 cents to $2.777 and September added 8.4 cents to $2.743. September crude oil fell 56 cents to $44.19/bbl.

The heaviest gains were seen in California, where heavy power loads prompted by extreme heat in Southern California sent prices soaring. Forecaster Wunderground.com said Friday's high for Los Angeles of 90 degrees would rise to 95 Saturday before dropping to 86 Monday. The seasonal high in Los Angeles is 74. Dallas' high of 104 Friday was forecast to ease slightly to 102 Saturday before easing to 96 Monday, one degree above normal.

Weekend and Monday gas at the PG&E Citygate added 11 cents to $3.13, but at the SoCal Citygate gas changed hands at $3.65, up a whopping 60 cents. Gas priced at the SoCal Border Avg. Average rose 53 cents to $3.44 and parcels on Kern Delivery jumped 52 cents to $3.48.

Major market centers didn't quite match the California gains but for the most part put in a solid performance. Gas on Dominion South was unchanged at $1.39, but deliveries to the Henry Hub added 8 cents to $2.78. Gas at the Chicago Citygate rose a dime to $2.84 and gas at Opal gained 8 cents to $2.68.

Analysts are keeping a close eye on weekend temperatures as SoCalGas faces another stress test with Aliso Canyon on limited withdrawal. "The pipeline will use tariff adjustments and OFOs in an attempt to maintain system integrity as the heat persists through Monday," said industry consultant Genscape.

"This upcoming heat wave in California is forecasted by Genscape to be slightly less intense than the one a month ago, with population weighted CDDs expected to peak at 15.4 this time relative to 18.7 in June. In the desert southwest, this weekend's temperatures are anticipated to be close to those during the middle of last month.

"SoCal has also adjusted its percentage of storage withdrawal capacity available for balancing in its low OFO calculation down from 15% to 10%, effective Evening Cycle for Gas Day July 22. During times of higher temperatures and increased demand, SoCal has lowered this percentage to help keep a tighter balance on the system. Since 6/1/2016, it has fluctuated between 10% and 15%; 10% when demand is high, 15% when demand is low," Genscape said.

A building materials manufacturer in southern California on the SoCal system said, "We haven't had any curtailments, but in four of the last five days we have had OFOs. The odd thing is that we have had a day of high OFOs followed by a day of low OFOs. We are fortunate for we operate 24/7, but the poor guy who runs eight to 10 hours a day and shuts down for a shift, they have to be getting killed."

Several California points traded at one-year highs. El Paso S Mainline at $3.68, Kern Delivery at $3.48, and SoCal Citygate at $3.65 all bested their one-year highs by close to 40 cents or more.

Analysts don't see a lot of trading potential in the market at present. Thursday's smaller than expected EIA storage report might have represented a correction to the holiday-driven storage report of the week before.

"[A] continued narrowing in the supply surplus to the tune of about 27 Bcf was furthered with an additional 20-25 Bcf contraction likely in next week's EIA report," said Jim Ritterbusch of Ritterbusch and Associates in a Friday morning report to clients. "We will reiterate that this dynamic of a narrowing in the surplus will remain price-supportive going forward into next month. But at the same time, we are recognizing that this narrowing in the supply overhang has slowed appreciably during the past month or so in providing an upside price limiter.

"In other words, much focus has shifted back to a very high absolute level of storage that has contributed to this week's price decline to approximate five-week lows. Furthermore, non-weather-related price drivers continue to provide a mixed bag as production recovery and utility switching toward the lower-priced coal appear to be losing momentum. At the end of the day, this remains a market in which a case for a major price move of much more than 20 cents in either direction is still elusive. Since we still see nearby pricing likely unchanged some three to four weeks down the road, option writing strategies still represent a good strategy, in our view."

According to forecasters, conditions over the NYISO footprint for the weekend will likely keep gas buyers for power generation busy. Warm, humid conditions will need to be balanced with an inventory of renewables. "Hot and stormy conditions are likely, [and] hot and humid conditions are expected [Friday] with max temps in the mid 80s to mid 90s," said WSI Corp. in its Friday morning report. "A frontal system and this air-mass will likely trigger heavy downpours and thunderstorms, which may be locally severe. A secondary cold front will support the chance for additional isolated pop up showers and thunderstorms during Saturday, which will finally give way to fair weather by Sunday.

"It will become less humid but remain warm with high temps in the 80s to mid 90s. Another frontal system will support a risk for scattered showers and thunderstorms early next week. Near to slightly higher than average Great Lakes water levels will continue to support hydro generation, [and] recent and expected rain will be highly beneficial as it will likely cause streamflow rates to hold fairly steady. A west-southwest to west-northwest breeze will boost wind generation during the next couple of days."

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