Natural gas futures fell Monday on a variable weather outlook that has bulls searching for signs of sustained cold. In the spot market, another price spike in California offset losses in the Northeast and Appalachia, and the NGI National Spot Gas Average was flat at $2.91/MMBtu.
The December contract could not build on Friday's gains, trading as low $3.026 Monday before settling a nickel lower at $3.047. January settled 5.1 cents lower at $3.140.
The natural gas bulls may have been disappointed in the weekend changes to the weather outlook, according to NatGasWeather.com.
"The markets are likely lower on the weekend weather data not looking quite as cold as some of the weather models were showing late last week," the firm said in a Monday midday update to clients. "...The timeline of major weather systems set to impact the U.S. through the end of the month is little changed, just with subtle changes on the amount of warming ahead of weather systems, and then how much cold air they tap out of Canada when they arrive."
There remains a lot of noise in the weather data, Commodity Weather Group President Matt Rogers told NGI. Rogers said the current outlook shows "warm-sided variability, just not as crazy warm as last year."
The American forecast ensembles came in colder Monday in the six to 15 day, while the European models shifted warmer midday in the 11-15 day outlook, Rogers said.
In the battle struck last week between the American and European guidance, "the European did win, so there's a lot of deference to the European" in the market now, he said. "I feel like the market is wanting to see some big cold pattern," but instead "bears aren't getting temperatures as warm as last year, and the bulls aren't getting it as cold as they'd want. It's somewhere right in the middle."
Rogers described the cold patterns moving through this month as "quick hitters" followed up by a few days of warmer temperatures. "The industry in general wants a clearer picture; they want to know if it's a warm pattern or a cold pattern, and it's kind of both right now," he said.
The lack of consistently colder weather has weighed on the market, Steve Blair, vice president of Rafferty Commodities Group, told NGI.
"To tell you the truth, I was a little surprised at the action on Friday, because with the models showing some differences, people have been a little hesitant to believe" that winter weather is here to stay, he said. "I think that's the key issue here. We're getting the cold blast here and there, but we're not getting anything on a consistent basis...I think it's hard for the market to sustain a substantial rally or consistently stronger prices without consistently colder weather."
In the cash market Monday, SoCal Citygate was the biggest mover, adding a dollar to $4.26. Last week Southern California Gas (SoCalGas) announced an unplanned, indefinite restriction on imports at Otay Mesa along the border with Mexico, adding to the ongoing import constraints that have made SoCal Citygate pricing volatile in recent weeks.
Weather Underground was forecasting temperatures in Los Angeles to reach a high of 85 Tuesday versus 74 on Monday. California ISO expected peak demand on its system to climb to 30,490 MW Tuesday from a forecast peak of 29,528 MW Monday.
Prices in the Northeast and Appalachia fell. Temperatures in Boston were expected to climb Tuesday, according to AccuWeather, which forecast a high of 58 versus Monday's high of 43. New York was expected to see a high of 57 Tuesday, up from Monday's high of 47.
Genscape Inc. said Monday cold temperatures moving through the South beginning Sunday were expected to briefly boost demand in the region.
Southeast and Mid-Atlantic "demand is anticipated to spike to 16.8 Bcf Monday; up 1.6 Bcf/d compared to the previous two-week average of 15.2 Bcf/d," Genscape said. But temperatures were expected to return "to near-normal Tuesday before gradual cooling over the next two days, with another expected localized peak" of demand on Thanksgiving Day. Genscape said it expects regional demand to average 15.4 Bcf/d over the next five days.