Next-day physical natural gas skyrocketed in Tuesday trading as buyers locked in supplies before weather-driven high power loads, high next-day power prices, and a forecast expected to push high temperatures in eastern markets 20 degrees below normal by the end of the week.
The NGI National Spot Gas Average surged 24 cents to $3.86, but gains ranged from a few pennies in producing zones to multi-dollar advances in New England.
Futures got off to a strong start, opening a few pennies higher, but the likelihood of relative warmth along the Eastern Seaboard toward the end of longer-term forecasts prompted selling. At the close, January had surrendered 3.3 cents to $3.474 and February had lost 3.5 cents to $3.475. January crude oil made it four gains in a row with an advance of 15 cents to $52.98/bbl.
Stout next-day power prices in New England and the Mid-Atlantic made incremental purchases of natural gas a slam-dunk. Intercontinental Exchange reported that on-peak power at ISO New England's Massachusetts Hub jumped $23.84 to $74.86/MWh and on-peak Wednesday power at the PJM West terminal gained $6.31 to $43.52/MWh.
Forecast power loads increased as power generators factored in increased power usage to fire forced-air heating requirements. ISO New England forecast that peak power load Tuesday of 17,940 MW would rise to 18,020 MW Wednesday and 19,400 MW Thursday. PJM Interconnection predicted that peak load Tuesday of 37,674 MW would reach 39,876 MW Wednesday and 43,606 MW Thursday.
Temperatures over the succeeding three days were expected to show a steady progression lower. AccuWeather.com calculated that Boston's high of 41 Tuesday would slide to 39 Wednesday and drop to 21 by Friday, 21 degrees below normal. New York City's 43 high on Tuesday was expected to fall to 41 Wednesday and 26 by Friday, well below the seasonal norm of 43.
Gains at other market points were not quite so buoyant. Gas at the Chicago Citygate rose 12 cents to $3.78, but gas at the Henry Hub was quoted just 3 cents higher at $3.60. Deliveries to Opal came in 2 cents higher at $3.52, and gas priced at the SoCal Citygate rose a penny to $3.75.
Market analysts versed in Elliott Wave see some more short-term up-and-down in futures trading. "I would imagine that the wave four [down] of the current Elliott pattern would be back and forth for more than just a couple of days," said David Thompson, principal with Powerhouse LLC, a Washington DC-based trading and risk management firm.
"I think it’s going to be more choppy here before wave three runs out of steam and gets characterized as something else, or we have one more push higher, which could be from a cold blast in December. We're still bullish."
Overnight weather models were mixed, and technical analysts still see the uptrend intact.
MDA Weather Services in its Tuesday morning six- to 10-day outlook said, "The forecast sees a mix of detailed changes in this period, including a colder start to the period as another round of arctic air intrudes into the Midcontinent. Temperatures are now forecast to be within just a few degrees of daily records in parts of the Midwest in the early stages, with some models still offering a colder minimum there.
"Ahead of this incoming cold air mass, however, is a slower moving front which has the East Coast being warmer with early day highs on day six. Cold is expected to begin breaking down within the second half of the period, when more seasonal conditions return nationally."
Risks to the forecast include "models [warming] along the East Coast on day six ahead of a slower moving cold front" and models could also be slow to warm Texas late in the period presenting a cold risk there."
On its weather map MDA showed the epicenter of the six- to 10-day cold centered over Iowa and Illinois. In six days AccuWeather.com forecasts the high in Chicago at 16 with a low of 15, which is 20 degrees below normal.
Other analysts see a somewhat milder weather outlook auguring additional price weakness. "We feel that the price pullbacks have a bit further to run as updated six-14 day temperature views would appear to favor additional declines to the $3.40 level as a minimum," said Jim Ritterbusch of Ritterbusch and Associates in a Tuesday morning note to clients.
"Although a return to normal trends across most of the U.S. may not appear particularly bearish, the contrast against this week's broad-based cold weather extremes is quite sharp. Additionally, temps along the heavily populated eastern seaboard are expected to be above normal to beyond the Christmas holiday break. Consequently, the strong storage withdrawals that will be reported this week and next by the EIA could prove brief with the agency's report to be released on the 29th of this month likely be sharply downsized."