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Traders Mull Shifting Political Landscape; NatGas Cash, Futures Diverge

Physical natural gas for Thursday delivery and gas futures parted company in Wednesday's trading as traders attempted to blend market factors featuring unceasing mild conditions with only spurts of seasonal cold, along with the uncertainties of what a Trump administration might present to the energy and natural gas industries.

The NGI National Spot Gas Average fell 7 cents to $2.09, but the Marcellus continued its counter trend price movement, adding a few pennies. Futures managed a modest gain, with the spot December contract rising 5.7 cents to $2.690, and January gaining 4.9 cents to $2.859. December crude oil rose 29 cents to $45.27/bbl.

The Dow Jones Industrial Average, after being down as much as 287 points at the market open, managed to stage a rally, finishing up 257 points to 18,589.

Great uncertainty prevails as to the impact a Trump administration is likely to have on infrastructure, energy, and prices. The Blackrock Investment Institute sees "Trump's unexpected victory bringing market and policy uncertainty in the short run.

"Trump's agenda lacks detail and departs from the Republican Party tradition on trade, security and entitlements. Tapping into a backlash against the Washington status quo, he has often appeared at war with his own party and has surrounded himself with less known advisers."

The capital-intensive natural gas industry is likely to see increased borrowing costs as the interest rate curve steepens with higher interest rates farther out.

The price outlook, according toNGI’s Patrick Rau, director of strategy and research, is likely to be "slightly bearish" as enhanced infrastructure development in the Marcellus and Utica enables basis differentials to shrink, raising depressed Marcellus/Utica prices at the expense of the Henry Hub.

"Even though Republicans now maintain control of both the Senate and the House of Representatives, Trump may have to compromise with the party leadership,” Blackrock said. “We could see gridlock on the legislative agenda as a result. Corporate tax reform and increased spending on infrastructure appear to have limited bipartisan support, however, and could be a ripe area for negotiation. Any infrastructure spending would come with a lag but should boost growth more than usual amid rock-bottom rates.”

In physical trading, major market centers skidded, but Marcellus points continued their advance of the last few sessions. While prices mostly fell across the board, Marcellus/Utica hit new 30-day highs Wednesday in what has been a month-long closing of their gap with the Henry Hub futures contract.

Gas on Dominion South rose 4 cents to $1.79, exceeding its 30-day high of $1.77, and Tennessee Zn 4 Marcellus added 3 cents to $1.71, 3 cents above its 30-day high. Transco-Leidy Line changed hands at $1.77, up 6 cents and well above its 30-day high of $1.71.

Major market centers, however, weakened. Gas at the Chicago Citygate finished 11 cents lower at $2.15, and deliveries to the Henry Hub dropped 10 cents to $2.22. Gas at Opal was quoted 5 cents lower at $2.01, and packages priced at the SoCal Border Avg. Average dropped a 6 cents to $2.12.

Tuesday overnight weather data changed little from the current lack of cooler, seasonal temperatures.

"The latest overnight weather data maintained the trends of the past day and favors a couple more days of mostly mild and comfortable temperatures across the U.S. before a stronger cold blast arrives into the eastern U.S. Thursday through the coming weekend," said Natgasweather.com in a Wednesday morning report to clients.

"This will result in a surge in natgas demand from current light levels. However, we also continue to anticipate this will be followed by several days of warming next week as high pressure returns to ease demand back below normal levels. Additional weather systems will follow late next week and beyond, but there remains considerable uncertainty in the amount of colder air out of Canada that will be tapped, and then also which regions will be impacted greatest."

Traders saw the day’s advance as "book squaring” ahead of Thursday's Energy Information Administration storage report for the week ended Nov. 4, “with the emerging consensus view somewhere in the vicinity of 56-58 Bcf in net injections, moderately bearish compared with the 38-Bcf five-year average gain," said Tim Evans of Citi Futures Perspective. "A build on the expected magnitude would also mean a new record total above 4.0 Tcf, which may put additional bearish pressure on market sentiment."

The near-20 cent plunge in December futures Tuesday had market technicians scrambling to determine near-term trading objectives. This is "looking very much like natural gas is headed for a test of $2.489-2.437-2.424," said United ICAP market technician Brian LaRose in closing comments.

"This target represents our (A)=(C) objective down from the $3.366 high. Between here and there $2.627-2.604-2.579 is the only intermediate candidate for support we can identify. I am not anticipating anything more than a minor pause, if that, out of this area of contention."

Others are also not optimistic.

"We are now lower than the low of the November contract when it expired, and I tend to think we will get through $2.60 and the Elliott Wave marking of the end of wave three at $2.60 might be optimistic for price bulls," said Powerhouse LLC principal David Thompson. "I think there is a good chance we get through $2.60."

Thursday's storage report should give traders an idea of just how much of a record amount of gas will land in storage. Last year 55 Bcf was injected, and the five-year pace is for a 38 Bcf build. PIRA Energy calculated a 48 Bcf increase, and Ritterbusch and Associates is looking for a build of 58 Bcf. A Reuters survey of 19 traders revealed an average 53 Bcf with a range of 45 Bcf to 65 Bcf.

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