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NatGas Cash, Futures Slide Lower; May Loses 3 Cents Ahead Of Options Expiration

Next-day gas for Tuesday delivery generally eased in Monday trading as stout double-digit gains in New England were unable to counter broader setbacks at Midwest market points and producing zones.

Temperature forecasts offered a wide mix of conditions, with Northeast points expected to take a dive Tuesday and Texas anticipated to see near 90-degree conditions. The NGI National Spot Gas Average slipped 1 cent to $2.82.

Futures followed the siren call of the cash and at the close May had fallen 3.5 cents to $3.066 and June was down 3.2 cents to $3.160. June crude oil lost 39 cents to $49.23/bbl.

If traders working the New England markets didn't have enough to worry about, planned cleaning tool runs on the Algonquin Gas Transmission (AGT) mainline also added to the mix of challenges.

The maintenance, planned for AGT's 30-inch Main Line between the Stony Point and Cromwell compressor stations, was originally scheduled for Tuesday and Thursday but was rescheduled for Thursday and Saturday. AGT notified shippers of the change Monday morning.

The maintenance is expected to reduce capacity through Stony Point to 840 Dth/d. AGT said it "anticipates restrictions to interruptible, secondary firm, and potentially primary firm service nominations sourced west of Stony Point for delivery" east of the station.

"When flows are unrestricted along this path, Stony Point flows at 1,800 MMcf/d," industry consultant Genscape said in a morning note to clients, "so this event poses a significant reduction for the main New England import path.

"...Algonquin will have to reduce deliveries to Iroquois at Brookfield, and TGP and Maritimes will have to increase their deliveries to the Algonquin system north of Stony Point in order to cover demand," Genscape said.

The firm noted that the last time pigging runs were conducted at Stony Point all New England pricing hubs saw an average 16 cent increase during the maintenance. "This time around, capacity will be restricted by an additional 350 MMcf/d, so a larger price swing may be in store."

Gas on Algonquin Citygate jumped 50 cents to $3.26 and deliveries to Iroquois, Waddington added 29 cents to $3.12. Gas on Tennessee Zone 6 200 L jumped 31 cents to $3.24.

In the Mid-Atlantic, however, conditions were more varied. Gas on Texas Eastern M-3, Delivery shed 7 cents to $2.60 and gas headed for New York City on Transco Zone 6 rose 3 cents to $2.95.

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Weather was expected to be widely varied across the country Tuesday. Forecaster Wunderground.com predicted East Coast temperatures would take a sharp dive Tuesday, but surge in Texas. The high Monday in Boston of 68 degrees was seen plunging to 47 Tuesday before recovering to 58 Wednesday, one degree less than normal. New York City's 60 high Monday was forecast to fall to 53 Tuesday and climb back to 61 Wednesday. The normal high in New York this time of year is 64. Dallas' Monday max of 77 was predicted to rise to 89 Tuesday and then fall to 78 Wednesday, 2 degrees above normal.

The National Weather Service (NWS) in Fort Worth, TX said temperatures would climb into the upper 70s to mid 80s on Monday afternoon and southwesterly winds should promote downslope warming and allow temperatures to climb to above normal levels with readings in the mid-90s. To the east, high temperatures are also expected to be above normal with many areas in the mid to upper 80s. NWS added that under certain conditions "it's possible that some locations along the I-35 corridor may near or break record high temperatures."

Maintenance this month on the NET Mexico pipeline concluded on schedule over the weekend, with flows beginning to increase last Friday, Genscape said.

The firm said estimated flows based on its proprietary monitor of NET measured around 1.8 Bcf/d Monday after dipping below 1 Bcf/d from April 14 to April 20.

Genscape said the maintenance reduced flows by an average daily reduction of 1,066 MMcf/d over a 12-day period, for a total of 12.8 Bcf in exports cut.

"At present, our best assessment is most of the gas displaced during the event was re-routed onto Texas inter- and intrastate lines...we did not see other interstate or Genscape-monitored intrastate export lines pick up extra volumes," Genscape wrote in a weekend note to clients. "We did see moderate increases in northbound flows on NGPL, Transco and a drastic reduction in TGP southbound flows past Station 32.

"There is also a slight possibility some small volumes of production were shut-in: Spring Rock's estimate of daily South Texas production during the NET maintenance period averaged about 100 MMcf/d lower than the April month-to-date average prior to the outage."

Prices softened at most major trading points. Gas at the Chicago Citygate fell 8 cents to $2.79 and deliveries to the Henry Hub weakened 6 cents to $2.98. Gas on El Paso Permian shed 6 cents to $2.56.

Kern Receipts came in at $2.63, off by 6 cents, and gas priced at the SoCal Citygate inched higher by a cent to $3.07.

Futures traders were not optimistic for the June contract once it becomes the spot contract on Thursday. "Traders may try a $3.10 strike Tuesday [options expiration] but I doubt it," said a New York trader. "Short term June $2.92 and $2.80. Prices were $1 lower at this time last year. The market is overpriced and there is plenty of gas out there.

"I don't see any room to the upside except on expiration, you can get some kind of rally," he said.

Trading opened Monday morning 3 cents lower as market fundamentals and now technicals portend lower prices.

Risk managers continue to look for spots to initiate short hedges. "We still feel natural gas could continue lower because of flat demand," said Mike Devooght, president of DEVO Capital, in a weekend report to clients. "There is still some buying in natural gas on the market on moves lower as expectations for a warmer than average summer still loom.

"On a trading basis, we still 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 [$2.50s] in the next few months. We will hold current short positions for producers and will look at rallies to the $3.40-3.50 range for the balance of the year as a selling opportunity."

Forecasters see a mixed picture going forward. "The forecast since Friday and Sunday's reports trends cooler, with these changes focused in the Central U.S. where more intense below normal coverage is seen in the Rockies, Plains and parts of the Midwest," said MDA Weather Services in a morning six- to 10-day outlook.

"The Midwest sees a mixed period overall, with lower confidence here being attributed to model struggles in resolving the placement of frontal boundaries over the region, especially in the early half. Downstream, the Mid-Atlantic and coastal New England average the period in the much above normal category, with temperatures peaking here early before turning more seasonal late."

Tom Saal, vice president at FCStone Latin America in Miami, in his work with Market Profile expects the market to test last week's value area at $3.201 to $3.133.

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