Physical natgas for delivery Tuesday overall inched lower in Monday trading as firm markets in the West were unable to counter soft pricing in Texas, Louisiana, Appalachia and the Northeast.
The NGINational Spot Gas Average was flat at $2.93. Weather systems this time of year are largely transient, but they proved sufficient to lift quotes at Rocky Mountain, California, Midwest and Midcontinent points along with firm power quotes. Futures were unable to hold on to early gains and at the close May had fallen 6.2 cents to $3.128 and June was off 5.0 cents to $3.204. May crude oil retreated 36 cents to $50.24/bbl.
California and western points firmed as energy demand was forecast to rise and next-day power prices gained. Intercontinental Exchange reported that on-peak power Tuesday at SP-15 rose $3.94 to $25.76/MWh and power at Mid Columbia added $3.39 to $19.36/MWh. Peak power at Four Corners rose by $11.00 to $22.00/MWh.
Gas at Malin rose 6 cents to $2.78, and deliveries to the PG&E Citygate added a couple of pennies to $3.23. Gas at the SoCal Citygate changed hands 7 cents higher at $3.16, and gas priced at the SoCal Border Average was quoted 8 cents higher at $2.81.
Parcels at the Cheyenne Hub added 4 cents to $2.69, and gas on Northwest South of Green River added a penny to $2.63. Gas at Opal rose 7 cents to $2.72, and deliveries to Transwestern San Juan gained 9 cents to $2.71.
The California Independent System Operator forecast that Monday's peak load of 27,511 MW would climb to 27,940 MW Tuesday.
Weather forecasters called for a brief cooling across the Rockies and Midwest Tuesday and Wednesday. AccuWeather.com predicted that Denver's Monday high of 58 would drop to 40 Tuesday before climbing back to 54 on Wednesday, 4 degrees below normal. Chicago's high of 50 on Monday was expected to hold Tuesday before dropping to 42 Wednesday, 12 degrees below normal.
Other major market centers were mixed. Gas at the Algonquin Citygate fell 5 cents to $3.67, and gas on Dominion South shed 2 cents to $2.79. Gas at the Chicago Citygate added a nickel to $2.99, and deliveries to the Henry Hub slid a nickel to $3.05. Gas on El Paso Permian was quoted 9 cents higher at $2.71.
Futures appeared to be headed for a strong open as traders factored in modest near-term cooling along with lighter than normal heating loads.
Weather forecasts are moderately cooler going forward but nothing to upset market equilibrium. "This period averages near normal with temperatures for most areas across the U.S., with slight cooler leanings in the Midwest while slight aboves are focused in the Southwest," said MDA Weather Services in its Monday morning 11- to 15-day outlook.
"A round of below-normal temperatures are forecast across the Rockies and Plains to start the period, with belows then pressing eastward. This cooler air mass will break down early period aboves along the East Coast, with forcing support for this round of belows coming from an MJO [Madden Julian Oscillation]-like signal out of its western Hemisphere phases. Confidence, however, is on the low side of moderate given the weak forcing signal from the tropics.
"The Midwest could be cooler still, with this risk based on the American model and temperature correlations from features associated with the -AO [Arctic Oscillation] and -WPO [Western Pacific Oscillation]. Risks are mixed in the West."
Risk managers see the current trend higher in natural gas prices coming to an end. Mike DeVooght, president of DEVO Capital, sees the present market strength largely technically based. "The only other news supporting the strength of natural gas is based on expectations for a warmer than average summer. We feel as spring approaches and demand continues to lack, we should see a pullback in natural gas prices," he said.
"On a trading basis, we continue to look for the market to run out of steam at current levels. We think there is a good chance that we could test the lows of late February in the next few months. We will hold current short positions for producers and will look to sell May at $3.15-3.20 for speculators."
Physical traders coming off an active bid week saw a bias to the buy side. "I think there were a number of companies coming in buying," said a Midwest marketer working the Chicago Citygate markets. "We all have short memories and if you look at last year April and May were the cheapest months so if you are injecting for storage you want to inject as much as you can to start the year out.
"It used to be that historically people waited to the end of the season, September or October to start injecting gas because those were the cheapest months. Short memory this year means you buy as much as you can to start because it's going to trade up as the summer progresses.
"I kind of think the market will trade up as the summer goes through. Technically you have support in the marketplace. You might go a little bit below this $3 mark for a little bit, but as you look at this month relative to the rest of the summer you will be up from here."
Heating loads for early April are expected to slide seasonally, but data from the National Weather Service (NWS) shows expectations in key energy markets well below seasonal norms. For the week ended April 8, NWS predicts New England will see 132 heating degree days (HDD) or 30 fewer than normal. New York, New Jersey and Pennsylvania are expected to have 101 HDDs or 40 fewer than their typical seasonal tally, and the greater Midwest from Ohio to Wisconsin is predicted to see 106 HDDs, or 39 fewer than normal.
The early call on the week's storage report is for a slight build. The Deskin an Early View assessment of the week's storage report surveyed 10 traders and analysts and the average revealed an 11 Bcf build for the week ending March 31. All those surveyed expected a storage injection, and the range was from +5 Bcf to +22 Bcf. Last year 6 Bcf was injected and the five-year average is for a 13 Bcf withdrawal.