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Northeast Drags Down NatGas Cash; Futures Stuck in Holding Pattern

Natural gas for weekend and Monday delivery reflected the ambivalence in the current weather outlook, as traders continue to guess which way temperatures will go with the start of winter only a few weeks away.

Big downswings in Appalachia and the Northeast overshadowed modest gains of a penny to a nickel most everywhere else, and the NGI National Spot Gas Average fell 5 cents to $2.39/MMBtu.

Futures crept higher, with forecasters noting some cooler risks in the medium-term outlook, albeit nothing to get excited about. As the wait for winter weather continues, the December contract finished higher for the second consecutive day, up 4.9 cents to settle at $2.984; January climbed 4.6 cents to $3.097. December crude oil gained a healthy $1.10 to settle at $55.64/bbl.

Amid rising production and moderate temperatures in the region, Northeast and Appalachian price points were awash in red ink heading into the weekend, giving up a good chunk of the previous day's gains as market conditions offered little incentive to buy.

Boston's Friday high of 73 degrees was expected to fall to 52 Saturday before climbing to 58 Sunday, while New York was also enjoying highs of 73 Friday, with peak temperatures only expected to fall to 55 Saturday before climbing to 64 Sunday, according to forecaster Weather Underground.

Transco Zone 6 New York fell 50 cents to $1.49. Further north, Iroquois Zone 2 dropped 88 cents to $1.46, while Iroquois Waddington shed 62 cents to $1.75.

Algonquin Citygate posted a 23 cent loss on the day, falling to $1.05 and trading as low as 85 cents. That's the lowest average price recorded at Algonquin since December 2015, when prices averaged 97 cents.

The reintroduction of capacity at the Stony Point compressor station is the likely culprit for the declines observed at New England price points this week, Genscape Inc. analyst Molly Rosenstein toldNGI Friday.

"Nov. 1 marked the first day since Winter 16-17 where the Stony Point, and other mainline compressors, were able to flow without restriction," Rosenstein said. "Even further, 40 MMcf/d additional incremental capacity was added with the Atlantic Bridge Expansion that came online the same day. That day, the compressor was nominated fully to its new 1.85 Bcf/d capacity (which has since been revised down), and led to a 89 cent decline day/day.

"Between Oct. 31 and Nov. 1, Stony Point flows increased 797 MMcf/d, and operational capacity increased from 698 MMcf/d to 1,851 MMcf/d. Additionally, deliveries to Iroquois Brookfield are maxed at nearly 400 MMcf/d, and deliveries into New England at TGP Mendon have not declined since the introduction of the new Stony Point capacity. Iroquois is not sending much of the gas to Canada via Waddington either, which is exacerbating price declines in the area."

Meanwhile, PointLogic Energy's production models show Northeast dry gas production continuing to climb as the calendar flips to November, with production exceeding 25.7 Bcf/d Friday, up around 1 Bcf/d month/month.

The Northeast production increases come as Marcellus and Utica shale producers prepare to fill a wave of incremental pipeline capacity coming online in the region, including the Rayne XPress, Access South and Adair Southwest projects, which all received authorization to enter service this week.

But those new Northeast pipes are unlikely to offer price relief at Dominion South, at least not in the short-term, BTU Analytics senior energy analyst Matthew Hoza said in a recent webinar.

Dominion South fell 8 cents Friday to 83 cents, while Tetco M-3 Delivery gave up 34 cents to finish at 83 cents.

Elsewhere, prices posted modest gains. Henry Hub added a nickel to finish at $2.74. Chicago Citygate gained 6 cents to $2.83, while Transco Zone 4 rose 4 cents to $2.73.

Out west, Kern River added 2 cents to $2.63, while SoCal Citygate continued to moderate after recent spikes, falling 29 cents to $2.93.

Forecasters continue to see mixed signs in the weather outlook, leading to a futures market that remains range-bound.

"Our sentiment into the weekend remains mostly neutral with a slight skew towards bullish risks, as we would not be surprised to see decent weekend gas-weighted degree day additions with the cold shot moving across the country next week," said Bespoke Weather Services in an afternoon update to clients.

"But we do not yet expect long-range forecasts to trend significantly cooler. The result is that the market could continue to grind higher towards at least $3.02, but we do not yet see a catalyst for a significant break higher that would move us above strong $3.10 resistance (or potentially even lead us to test it)."

Elaine Levin, president of Powerhouse, an energy risk management firm based out of Washington, DC, said traders are stuck in "wait-and-see mode" until winter arrives. The potential bullish risks created by growing demand for exports is helping to keep a bottom on the range at the moment, she said.

"With natural gas, the test will be when we get into the throes of winter weather, and to see how exports impact marginal demand. But we need that weather, and I think that's why we're in a holding pattern," Levin told NGI. "Nobody's wanting to go into this winter short. I think that's why $2.75 holds. Traders are just not anxious" to go long, "nor are they anxious to go short."

She added, "I just think you have people waiting for this to break out of the range, and there's been no fundamental news to make that happen yet. So I think we remain here for a little bit longer."

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