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Forecasts Maintain Early April Cold to Boost Natural Gas Futures; Spot Prices Mixed

Continued calls for cold temperatures across the northern United States for the first week of April helped natural gas futures bounce back Monday after concerns of oversupply drove prices lower last week. In the spot market, expectations for a warm-up along the East Coast sent day-ahead prices tumbling in the Northeast and Mid-Atlantic, while price moves were mixed across most other regions; the NGI National Spot Gas Average shed 4 cents to $2.36/MMBtu.

The April contract, which is set to expire Tuesday, settled up 2.7 cents at $2.618 Monday after trading as high as $2.635 and as low as $2.565. The May contract settled at $2.657, up 2.4 cents on the day.

The front month gained steadily throughout the session after opening at $2.588.

NatGasWeather.com attributed the higher prices Monday to “weather data holding a colder northern U.S. pattern for the first week of April, while also favoring at least some cooling lasting into the second week of April.” However, midday model runs offered reasons to be cautious.

“The most recent data was a little milder overall after April 2, showing the cold pool that extends out of Canada not pushing quite as far south into the U.S.,” the firm said. “This will need watching going forward in case this milder trend sticks instead of being a one-run flip-flop.”

After price declines the last several sessions, short-covering may have played a role in Monday’s bounce, and more short-covering could follow Tuesday, according to INTL FCStone Financial Inc. Senior Vice President Tom Saal.

“I think winter’s finally coming to a close,” Saal told NGI. That would allow the market to focus on storage and “excess production. But we haven’t started the injection season yet, so that’s probably the biggest wild card going forward.” The market already has digested that end-of-winter inventories should come in lower than recent norms.

“But the market’s not concerned because they believe they have ample supply to fill storage. That’s the current mood of the market,” he said. “That could change. What could change it would be skinny injections next month.”

The early-April cold expected along the northern tier could mean “at least one more storage withdrawal than we typically see this time of year, further depleting natural gas stockpiles that are still solidly below average,” Bespoke Weather Services said Monday. “Though the market continues to feel it should be able to produce enough gas to easily fill storage, we see nuclear outages and power burns lagging enough on a raw basis (and therefore relatively tight enough on an adjusted basis) to see a floor nearby for prices, at least in the short-term when weather is supportive as well.”

Meanwhile, some of the weather data Monday “backed off on the intensity” of cold in next week’s forecast, the firm noted. “However, the medium-range cold shot remains intense enough to keep a bid under prices, and given a couple more supportive” Energy Information Administration storage reports, “we would expect to see a higher bias for prices unless production spikes further. The April contract could easily expire around the $2.68 resistance level that is its next test.”

In the spot market, forecasts for more moderate conditions along the East Coast this week coincided with falling cash prices in the Northeast and Appalachia.

Radiant Solutions was calling for average temperatures in Boston and New York City to hover in the upper 30s Tuesday and Wednesday before climbing into the upper 40s by Thursday and Friday. Further south in Philadelphia and Washington, DC, temperatures were expected to climb into the 60s by Thursday.

Genscape Inc. was forecasting New England regional demand to decline steadily over the next several days, down to 2.48 Bcf/d by Thursday, versus a recent seven-day average of 3.27 Bcf/d. Genscape’s regional forecast for Appalachia showed demand falling to 10.55 Bcf/d by Thursday, versus a recent seven-day average of 15.52 Bcf/d.

Algonquin Citygate tumbled 36 cents to $2.63, while prices at Transco Zone 6 New York and Transco Zone 5 each retreated by a dime or more. In Appalachia, Dominion South gave up 10 cents to $2.30.

After cold swept through over the weekend in the Midwest, Ohio Valley and Mid-Atlantic, Lower 48 natural gas demand should “begin a several day decline starting Monday” before a return of Arctic chills in the northern and eastern United States next week, analyst Alan Lammey of OPIS by IHS Markit told clients.

The firm’s one- to five-day outlook “begins with the forecast mean population-weighted nationwide temperature of 50.5 degrees, which is 1.4 degrees colder than average,” according to Lammey.

While somewhat cooler-than-normal temperatures are expected along the Eastern Seaboard, “temperatures that are more reminiscent of a typical spring season can be found in the southern and central Plains,” Lammey said. “In fact, highs in Oklahoma City and Dallas, all the way to New Orleans, will all see 80 degrees, which is 10 degrees warmer than normal and is even sufficient to spark some early-season powerburn cooling demand across these areas.

“Out West, a mix of slightly below average to seasonally normal temperatures will be in place throughout a majority of the region.”

Prices in East Texas were mixed. NGPL TexOk dropped 4 cents to $2.42, while Katy added a nickel to $2.65.

In the West, SoCal Citygate continued to moderate Monday on lighter demand as nearby points gained back a few cents following double-digit losses in Friday’s trading.

Southern California Gas Co. was calling for system demand to fall steadily through the week from around 2.8 Bcf/d Monday to 2.5 Bcf/d by Thursday, low enough to allow a net injection into storage for the import-constrained utility.

SoCal Citygate dropped 10 cents to $2.94, while SoCal Border Average added 3 cents to $2.04. El Paso S. Mainline/N. Baja added 3 cents to $2.03.

Maintenance scheduled on El Paso Natural Gas Co. LLC’s (EPNG) South Low Pressure Mainline was expected to cut about 230 MMcf/d of westbound flows for Tuesday’s gas day, according to Genscape.

“Capacity at the ‘CORN LPW’ meter will be set at 962 MMcf/d from now through late April; recent flows have averaged just under 1,200 MMcf/d,” the firm said. “Although EPNG may be able to re-route cut flows on its other South Mainline systems (high and intermediate pressure), there is some potential” for gas to get backed up into West Texas.

El Paso Permian finished even at $1.57, while Waha climbed 7 cents to $1.73 after slipping 7 cents in Friday’s trading.

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