Physical natural gas for Wednesday delivery had the trajectory of a safe falling from a 10-story building in Tuesday's trading.
A forecast brief warm-up along the Eastern Seaboard was all it took to send the bulls running for cover, and the NGI National Spot Gas Average plunged 34 cents to $2.12. All points followed by NGI were in the loss column, and a few points approached dollar losses.
Futures found the imploding cash market irresistible, and at the close December had dropped 12.4 cents to $2.902 and January was off 11.7 cents to $3.078. December crude oil eased 19 cents to $46.67/bbl.
An intense, albeit brief, jump in temperatures was all that was necessary to pull the plug on the cash market. "Another warm-up will take shape over the northeastern United States at midweek. Temperatures could challenge record highs in some areas, following another bout of frost and early-morning chill that started the week," said meteorologist Alex Sosnowski.
Major market centers were some of the hardest hit. Gas at the Chicago Citygate dropped 32 cents to $2.24, and deliveries to the Henry Hub shed 27 cents to $2.53. Gas on Panhandle Eastern came off 24 cents to $2.19, and deliveries to the PG&E Citygate skidded 42 cents to $2.61.
"During Monday and Tuesday, temperatures from Washington, DC, to Boston hovered between 15 and 25 degrees Fahrenheit lower than over the weekend, [but] the warmer air began to push into the Ohio Valley on Tuesday and will reach the rest of the mid-Atlantic and parts of New England on Wednesday. Highs at the peak of the warmth will be similar to those from this past weekend.
"Temperatures will again reach into the 70s across much of the mid-Atlantic and into the 60s across southern New York and New England. Temperatures will approach 80 on Thursday around Washington, DC, which happens to be the record high set in 1974.
"However, the warm spell will be brief. An approaching storm will lead to the development of showers and thunderstorms during Thursday afternoon from northern Virginia into southern New England, some of which could contain damaging winds," according to AccuWeather.com meteorologist Matt Rinde. "Those along the Interstate-95 corridor from Boston to New York City and Washington, DC, will want to keep an eye to the sky for rapidly changing weather conditions."
Curiously the beleaguered Marcellus did relatively better. Gas on Dominion South lost only 4 cents to $1.48, and gas on Tennessee Zone 4 Marcellus shed 15 cents to $1.45. Deliveries to Transco-Leidy Line changed hands 4 cents lower at $1.43.
Market technicians see a somewhat misleading picture painted by the expiration of the November contract. "The December contract started trading about 28 cents higher than the November for no other reason than it was a change of contracts," said Alan Levine, principal with Powerhouse LLC, a Washington, DC-based trading and risk management firm.
"I think you have to be careful as to what is going on here. You wound up with a big gap on the charts, and that gap is in the process of being filled in. The weather outlook clearly has an impact, but we had a 30-cent gap with the closure of the November contract.
"Today's action is not exactly a gap between yesterday and today, but if you look at it from a candlestick perspective, there is still a lot of weakness.”
Overnight weather models have backed off any near-term incursion of cooler, more seasonal air. "No major changes are noted [Tuesday] morning, but the net result of today's outlook looks slightly warmer," said Commodity Weather Group in a Tuesday morning note to clients. "Yesterday afternoon's modeling came in collectively warmer, while last night's came in cooler overall, but it was not enough to make up for those afternoon losses.
"The same big picture view holds as yesterday with this week being the warmest period and then next week being on the warm side, but not nearly as strong. The models had been leaning toward cooler risks for the East Coast this weekend into next week, but they backed away a bit in recent cycles, leading us to range from normal to slightly above," said Matt Rogers, president of the firm.
Traders see further declines. "From here, we are leaving open the possibility of additional decline to about the $2.95 area per nearby futures where we expect long-term support," said Jim Ritterbusch of Ritterbusch and Associates. "But at the same time, we are still cautioning against attempts to pick a price bottom on an outright basis. We have, instead, suggested bull spreads such as long March 2017 -- short September 2017. Any positions established in this trade today would be advised to risk to about a 3-cent inversion, and we will look for eventual inversion expansion back to around the 21-cent area.
"So although this market appears quite soft at the present time as it is being forced to price in a storage peak north of 4 Tcf, we still feel that the first swing in the temperature views toward broad-based below-normal trends will induce a scramble back into the long side that will keep nearby futures elevated north of the $3 mark through most of next month."