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NatGas Cash, Futures Drift Lower Ahead of Fresh Storage Data

Both physical natural gas for Thursday delivery and futures were slow out of the blocks in Wednesday's trading, with most market points fluctuating within a few cents of unchanged. The NGI National Spot Gas Average fell 2 cent  to $2.68, and in the East falling power loads gave buyers little to no incentive to make incremental purchases for power generation.

Futures drifted lower after making a valiant attempt to establish a new market high. October opened about 5 cents higher and traded up to $2.978, just a couple of cents short of the July 1 market peak, but at the end of the day October had fallen 2.0 cents to $2.889. November was off 2.0 cents as well to $2.969, while October crude oil continued to spiral lower falling $1.32 to $43.58/bbl.

Major market points showed little change. Gas on Dominion South was quoted 2 cents lower at $1.20, and gas at the Chicago Citygate changed hands at $2.92, unchanged. Deliveries to the Henry Hub fell 2 cents to $3.04, and parcels at Opal shed a penny to $2.77. At the SoCal Citygate, next-day gas added 3 cents to $2.95.

Power loads at eastern points were expected to take a dive Thursday, keeping next-day gas in the Mid-Atlantic under pressure. The PJM Interconnection forecast that the peak load Wednesday of 48,020 MW would plummet to 39,260 MW Thursday and to 37,257 MW Friday. The New York ISO forecast peak system load Wednesday of 23,742 MW would drop to 20,941 MW Thursday before falling to 20,532 MW Friday.

Next-day gas on Texas Eastern M-3, Delivery shed 6 cents to $1.29, and gas bound for New York City on Transco Zone 6 fell 28 cents to $1.35.

Marcellus points also weakened. Gas on Tennessee Zn 4 Marcellus skidded 3 cents to $1.21, and packages at Transco-Leidy Line were quoted a penny lower at $1.23.

Futures traders see the near-term market to test $3.00.

"The people I talk to see $3 trading before any move lower," said a New York floor trader. He cautioned it’s "that's probably just spec guys, not weather forecasters. About a month ago when the market was trading $2.50 one trader said 'this is going to $3,' so I would go with him. Until some number comes into effect or if there is a massive storage build, then they might have to sell it off."

That "number" could very well be Thursday's storage report by the Energy Information Administration. With the onset of cooler weather expectations, storage builds are expected to gravitate closer to historical averages. Last year 74 Bcf were injected and the five-year pace stands at 68 Bcf.

Estimates this time around are coming in toward the low 60 Bcf range. IAF Advisors calculated a 62 Bcf increase, and Citi Futures Perspective is looking for a 48 Bcf build. A Reuters poll of 19 traders and analysts showed an average 63 Bcf with a range of 45 Bcf to 72 Bcf.

Forecasters in their noon updates Wednesday didn't see any significant changes. No major changes were noted in the early morning or mid-day weather data, with a couple cooling degree days added for next week because of “warmer than normal conditions over the eastern United States," said Natgasweather.com."Overall, the northern U.S. will remain slightly warmer than normal, which for this time of the year means comfortable daytime high temperatures of 70s to lower 80s, requiring limited demand for heating or cooling.

"There will still be swings between near-normal and warmer-than-normal over the Great Lakes and northeastern U.S...and during the middle of next week, but also with weather systems tracking across in between and after with minor cooling. Over the southern U.S., temperatures will remain quite warm with highs of mid-80s to lower 90s, thereby driving a majority of the nation's nat gas demand."

Risk managers are looking lower.

"We still believe as we approach the end of the cooling season, we anticipate a sideways to lower trade over the next three to four weeks," said DEVO Capital Management President Mike DeVooght, in a weekly note to clients. "On a trading basis, we will continue to use rallies approaching the $3 level on the spot market as an opportunity to establish producer collars, with floors in the $2.50-2.75 range and a ceiling around the $4.00 level."

Market technicians see the bulls on the cusp of energizing the bullish case. Spot futures haven't seen the daylight of a $3 print since May of last year.

There’s “only one way to revitalize the bullish model, clear both the $2.943/2.998 highs and the 3.039-3.085 zone," said United ICAP market technician Brian LaRose. "Make that happen and we will need to entertain a march to $3.680, even $4.955.

"But unless the rest of the petro complex is heading higher, we are skeptical the bulls can pull off such a feat. [We’re] still looking for another leg down to the $2.500 neighborhood if the bulls cannot get the job done."

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