Physical natural gas for Wednesday delivery traded mostly higher Tuesday as gains in Louisiana, Texas, the Midcontinent and Midwest outpaced temperature-driven declines at eastern points. The NGI National Spot Gas Average added 7 cents to $2.93.
Weather patterns continued to consist of periodic shots of cold traversing the country, but without a major incursion of market-rattling cold.
Futures consolidated Monday's gains, and at the close January had eased five-tenths of a cent to $3.315, and February also had shed five-tenths to $3.341. January crude oil tumbled $1.85 to $45.23/bbl.
Midwest markets and points in the central United States saw stronger next-day pricing as a pattern of falling temperatures was expected during the next few days. The expected temperatures were anticipated to be above normal, but that didn't prevent buyers from stepping up to the plate.
According to AccuWeather.com, Chicago's 56 high on Tuesday was seen falling to 47 Wednesday and to 43 by Thursday. The seasonal high in Chicago is 41. Milwaukee's 54 high Tuesday was forecast to drop to 47 Wednesday and to 46 by Thursday.
Gas at the Chicago Citygate rose 20 cents to $3.14, and deliveries to the Henry Hub gained 12 cents to $3.03. Packages on Panhandle Eastern added 17 cents to $2.96, and gas at the PG&E Citygate rose 3 cents to $3.61.
However, next-day prices at eastern points retreated, as a persistent pattern of above normal temperatures was predicted to prevail. AccuWeather.com said Boston's Tuesday high of 53 ould temper slightly to 52 Wednesday before hitting 58 on Thursday, 11 degrees above normal. New York City's 60 high on Tuesday was seen making it to 62 on Wednesday before falling to 59 Thursday, 3 degrees above normal.
"Overall, the active pattern will continue with swings in natural gas demand every several days due to weather system traversing the country," said Natgasweather.com in a Tuesday noon update. “Subtle changes” were forecast “in the amount of cold air weather systems tap between each suite of weather data, especially around the period of Dec. 8-12. Specifically, weather systems continue to roll through the central and western U.S., with rain, snow and cooler than normal temperatures.
"However, a milder temperature regime has set up over the eastern U.S., but still with showers as a relatively warm weather systems races through.”
Longer term, traders were taking a cautionary approach as progressively colder temperature forecasts were not anticipated and they see a somewhat over-exuberant futures market.
Weather models Monday overnight were a mixed bag. Tuesday’s 11-15 day period changes were mixed, “but generally warmer or not as cold over the central and eastern U.S., but colder over the West for days 11-14," said WSI Corp. in its Tuesday morning report to clients.
"Most of the changes offset each other,” so continental U.S. gas-weighted heating degree days (HDD) “are only down 0.2 for those days and are forecast to be 146 for the period, which are 8.7 above average for a change!"
For the moment traders are willing to focus on short-term temperature outlooks at the expense of record storage.
"This market continues to spike as updates to the short term temperature forecasts are tilting further in the direction of the first major cold spell of this season that will be forcing a significant lift in HDD accumulation," said Jim Ritterbusch of Ritterbusch and Associates in closing comments Monday.
"We will reiterate that cold forecasts during the anticipatory phase of the heavy usage cycle can pack a lot of pricing punch and this sharp advance of the past couple of weeks is no exception. The fact that storage is at a record level and about 240 Bcf above five-year averages is a bearish consideration that is apparently being left for a later date when longer term winter temperature forecasts acquire more clarity.
“We will also note that much of this sharp price advance has been fueled by short covering that has been developing on almost a daily basis since mid-month as chart resistance points are being violated,” he said.
"The January contract...appears to have clear sailing until about the $3.45 area. The December contract went off the board somewhat firmer than we had expected in providing an additional bullish portent. All in all, this sharp price advance that is now into its third week is beginning to look overcooked especially if January futures push above the $3.40 mark.
“However, we suggest maintaining the long March-short September 2017 spread as we still expect an inversion to about the 11-cent area,” Ritterbusch said.
In spite of the day's uninspired move, technical traders see only modest impediments to significantly higher prices.
"$3.366 may be the high in flat price,” said United-ICAP analyst Brian LaRose in closing comments Monday. “But the high for the January contract is still up at $3.675. Between here and there the only other candidate for resistance we have is $3.470 (.7862 of 3.675-2.722 in January).
“So bears still have a little room to maneuver,” he said. “But not much. If they are unable to carve out a top in short order we would be prepared for a run to $3.896 next."