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Bulls Stirring as Near-Term Cooling Predicted; April Called 9 Cents Higher

April natural gas is seen opening 9 cents higher Monday morning at $2.92 as traders respond to forecast cooling. Overnight oil markets were mixed.

Overnight weather data called for cooling heading into the last half of March. "The forecast trends colder in this period [11-15 day] as  well when compared to both the Sunday Update and last Friday's expectations, with this being a result of lower confidence in the evolution of the MJO [Madden Julian Oscillation]," said MDA Weather Services in a morning report to clients.

"That signal, however, should remain a prominent forcing on the pattern, and the forecast favors a return to phases seven of the western Pacific. This supports a warm dominated U.S. pattern downstream of a Gulf of Alaska low, and the forecast responds by having a coverage of above normal temperatures spanning the Midcontinent and South. Any lingering belows are focused in the Pacific Northwest."

Forecasts of near-term heating load remained weak. The National Weather Service (NWS) for the week ending March 11 predicted below normal heating requirements in Midwest and eastern energy markets. NWS forecast that New England would experience 218 heating degree days (HDD), or seven below normal. New York, New Jersey and Pennsylvania would see 182 HDDs, or 24 fewer than normal, and the greater Midwest from Ohio to Wisconsin was expected to have 150 HDDs, or 16 fewer than its normal seasonal tally.

Risk managers see the market in a near-term holding pattern. "Natural gas closed up slightly on the week after trading in a choppy two-sided range for most of the week," said Mike DeVooght, president of DEVO Capital, a Colorado-based trading and risk management firm. "Now that gas has given back all of its cold weather gains, and has discounted warmer than normal temperatures for the next couple weeks, there is a good chance we could consolidate around current levels for a couple weeks. On a trading basis, we will hold our current producer collars."

DeVooght currently counsels trading accounts and end-users to stand aside, and producers should hold the remainder of a August 2016-July 2017 $2.7 put strip and short a $3.5 call strip at flat or hold a $2.75 put and short a $3.75 call paying 7 cents.

In overnight Globex trading April crude oil fell 8 cents to $53.25/bbl and April RBOB gasoline rose a penny to $1.6582/gal.

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