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NatGas Cash Plunges Ahead Of Holiday Weekend, Yet June Futures Expire Firm

It looked like physical buyers of natural gas had left town ahead of the holiday weekend as prices plunged in Friday trading.

There was little interest in pursuing four-day deals with a well-supplied market. Firm quotes in Texas and Louisiana couldn't match the free-falling prices of Appalachia, the Northeast, Rockies, and California, and the NGI National Spot Gas Average slipped 6 cents to $2.86.

Futures held their ground and then some, although the expiring June contract was limited to a 7-cent range. At settlement June had added 5.2 cents to $3.236 and July had risen 3.5 cents to $3.310. July crude oil recovered somewhat from the ashes of Thursday's steep decline and added 90 cents to $49.80/bbl.

Mother Nature had something to say about the steep physical declines as temperatures were not only expected close to seasonal norms, but close to the 65-degree threshold from which both heating and cooling loads are driven.

Weatherunderground.com forecast that the high in New York City Friday of 74 degrees would ease to 69 Saturday and rise to 72 by Tuesday, 2 degrees below normal. Chicago's 67 high on Friday was expected to reach 76 Saturday before easing to 70 Tuesday, 3 degrees below normal.

Gas at the Algonquin Citygate tumbled 29 cents to $2.50 and packages on Dominion South skidded 18 cents to $2.40. Gas at the Chicago Citygate fell 5 cents to $2.96 and gas delivered to El Paso Permian dropped 13 cents to $2.70.

Gas at the Henry Hub was quoted 5 cents higher at $3.11 but gas on Northern Natural Demarcation eased a nickel to $2.89. Gas at Opal changed hands 9 cents lower at $2.75, and gas priced at the SoCal Border Average fell 11 cents to $2.82.

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Weather systems over the weekend were expected to have only modest impact. The National Weather Service in New York City talked of "low pressure tracks off the New England coast [Friday]. Weak high  pressure builds in tonight and Saturday, then retreats to the northeast as a weak wave of low pressure passes near the region Sunday into Monday. A cold front approaches from the west on Tuesday, then crosses the area Tuesday night. A series of weak waves of low pressure will result in unsettled weather for the middle of next week."

Futures bears can't seem to find any traction. The expiring June natural gas contract opened a penny higher Friday morning at $3.19 as traders noted little downside to an oversupplied market.

Analysts don't see much in the way of market room lower unless some events can materially affect the trend of a diminishing long-term supply surplus.

"Although the initial response to yesterday's moderately bearish weekly storage report appeared appropriate, downside price follow-through remains elusive, and key support levels managed to hold once again," said Jim Ritterbusch of Ritterbusch and Associates in a morning report to clients. "June futures are going into today's expiration virtually unchanged from a month ago, and July futures may not be posting much alteration at about this time next month.

"Although a supply surplus is likely to remain intact well into the summer period, the market is currently being supported by a reduction in this surplus that will continue to restrict selling until temperatures and some of the non-weather factors facilitate a reversal in this recent trend. In other words, this market may need some indication of a significant increase in the storage overhang if yesterday's lows are to see violation."

That diminishing long term supply surplus may eventually take a turn as the roster of drilling rigs keeps growing.

Overall, seven U.S. rigs came back, all of them land-based, according to Baker Hughes International in its weekly rig survey. Canada added eight rigs to bring the North American tally to 1,001. It stood at only 447 one year ago. Five U.S. natural gas rigs came back along with two oil rigs. The Canadians redeployed four of each.

For a change, Texas and the Permian were mostly quiet during the week while Colorado and its Denver Julesburg-Niobrara play posted the strongest gains, adding five rigs and four rigs, respectively.

Giving the Permian its due, not everything was static there. While the basin overall only added one rig during the week, five rigs entered the Delaware sub-basin while four left the Midland, so there was something going on.

As far as longer-term weather patterns, NOAA forecasters said Thursday they expect 11-17 named storms to form in the Atlantic Basin this year, with five to nine of them becoming hurricanes, including two to four major hurricanes (Category 3 or higher).

Offshore Gulf of Mexico production has diminished in importance over the years. Energy Information Administration figures peg current output at 3.4 Bcf/d, down from five years ago when it was 4.5 Bcf/d.

Traders have a range of forecasts to choose from. The NOAA numbers are higher than earlier predictions by two other prominent weather forecasters. In an extended-range forecast released in April, scientists at Colorado State University said they expected slightly below-average activity in the Atlantic Basin this year, with 11 named storms, of which four are expected to become hurricanes, including two major hurricanes. AccuWeather meteorologists have said they expect 10 named storms in the Atlantic this year, of which five could become hurricanes, including three major hurricanes.

Gas buyers for weekend supplies for electric power generation across the MISO footprint will have their hands full. "An active, stormy and changeable pattern is expected," said WSI Corp. in its morning report to clients. "Variably cloudy and warm conditions are expected [Friday], though a weak frontal system will likely touch off a few showers or thunderstorms across the Midwest.

"Temps will rebound into the 70s and 80s. A vigorous storm system will dig into the power pool during the weekend with a risk for scattered heavy showers and thunderstorms. Severe weather is a risk across the lower Midwest and Mississippi Valley.

"Light wind generation is expected during the next one to two days. Output will bottom out around 1-3 GW. A west-northwest wind associated with the weekend storm will likely bolster wind generation output during Saturday night through early next week. Total output is forecast to peak 8-10 GW."

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