Cooler forecast trends over the Easter holiday weekend helped natural gas futures bounce Monday to recover some of the declines recorded last week. Mild temperatures and numerous maintenance events continued to shape the spot market as points in the Rockies posted large day/day gains; the NGI Spot Gas National Avg. tacked on 15.5 cents to $2.040/MMBtu.
The May Nymex futures contract rallied 3.4 cents to settle at $2.524/MMBtu after trading as high as $2.535 and as low as $2.484. Further along the strip, the June contract added 2.3 cents to settle at $2.558, while July settled at $2.616, up 1.7 cents.
Monday’s gains came as weather data over the weekend trended “slightly cooler” for this upcoming weekend and early next week, showing “weak cool shots” across the Great Lakes and Northeast, according to NatGasWeather.
“It’s certainly not going to be cold, just a little cooler than the data showed last week,” the forecaster said, adding that the midday Global Forecast System data “did back off slightly on the amount of cold air pushing across the Canadian border next week.”
Despite the demand gains, as of Monday the pattern remained “at least moderately bearish” given the likelihood for a string of above-average injections to significantly reduce inventory deficits before the onset of widespread cooling demand, according to NatGasWeather.
“No change bigger picture with bearish weather headwinds expected to continue into the foreseeable future,” the forecaster said. “However, we weren’t surprised that the markets added a few cents back” Monday “since the weather data added a little demand over the weekend, and after prices tested $2.48 a couple times last week and failed, which we see as strong support, for now.”
Bespoke Weather Services attributed the gains in part to cash prices that were stronger than expected given weak overall weather-driven demand.
“Forecast demand levels remain well below normal as we close April and head into early May, although we did gain some demand in weather modeling over the long weekend,” Bespoke said. With low prices, liquefied natural gas export volumes rebounding to near the highs observed last month, and “a bit more weather demand, we feel we are closer to a more typical ‘spring rally,’ as all of these factors should allow weather-adjusted balances to show some tightening over the next couple of weeks.
“Longer term, summer demand is expected lag last year, which could create headwinds for any rally down the road.”
Bearish weather trends last week left the May-November strip in a “precarious position,” according to EBW Analytics Group CEO Andy Weissman. Going back to last April, a “nearly unbroken string” of above-normal weather-driven demand has served to mask a “growing oversupply in the market,” but so far this shoulder season weather isn’t keeping pace with production growth.
“Warmer-than-normal weather during the second half of April and expectations for continued below-normal demand during the first few weeks of May have finally broken this string, leading to a record early April injection last week and breaking support for the front-month contract just above $2.50 for the first time in nearly three years,” Weissman said. Any gains driven by the colder weekend weather trends could prove “short-lived” as the market shifts its focus to a potential run of “seven straight 100 Bcf-plus injections starting next week.”
Spot prices at most locations throughout the Rockies and California rebounded Monday after posting steep discounts on deals for delivery over the holiday weekend.
The Rockies Express Pipeline (REX) notified shippers over the weekend that it had completed planned maintenance work through its Segment 200 ahead of schedule. Last week, the Segment 200 work impacted eastbound flows out of the Rockies on REX. Over the weekend, the pipeline said it would be restoring operating capacity through the segment to 1,156,000 Dth/d after it had been limited to zero during the work.
North of the border in Canada, starting Tuesday Westcoast Energy Inc. is expected to see “notable capacity reductions” that would cut more than 300 MMcf/d of southbound flows on the pipeline versus the 30-day average, according to Genscape.
“Throughput at Station 4B will be limited to 990 MMcf/d starting Tuesday and lasting through Friday (April 26),” Genscape analyst Joe Bernardi said. “This would represent its lowest level since Dec. 10, when flows were only about 900 MMcf/d. For comparison, flows have come in at around 1,350 MMcf/d in the past month, and about 1,450 MMcf/d year-to-date.
“...The most recently posted maintenance calendar shows capacity remaining somewhat low for the four days after this event as well, in the range of around 1,100-1,140 MMcf/d.”
Constrained southbound flows on Westcoast contributed to skyrocketing spot prices in the Pacific Northwest over the winter. Northwest Sumas topped out at a record $200 during a late-season cold blast in the region.
But Bernardi said milder weather during this week’s maintenance should serve to tamp down volatility. In addition to “robust demand” in the Pacific Northwest, the winter price spikes were also driven by reduced storage inventories on the Northwest Pipeline, according to the analyst.
“Area demand has continued its considerable shoulder season decline since then,” Bernardi said. “Month-to-date April demand has averaged only about 63% of the February monthly average, which is right in line with five-year historic norms. Genscape meteorologists are also forecasting milder-than-normal weather for the Pacific Northwest this week.”
Northwest Sumas picked up 33.0 cents to average $1.665. In California, Malin added 38.5 cents to $1.785. SoCal Citygate, meanwhile, moved in the opposite direction to the rest of the region, shedding 40.0 cents to average $2.060 amid moderate shoulder season conditions.
As of Monday, Southern California Gas was forecasting demand on its system of around 2.2-2.3 million Dth/d over the next few days, with composite weighted average temperatures in its service area expected to come in at a comfortable 71 degrees. With receipts expected to exceed 2.5 million Dth/d, the utility was projecting daily storage injections of around 250,000-300,000 Dth.
In West Texas, prices strengthened at most locations, even with pipeline maintenance poised to restrict some volumes headed out of the congested Permian Basin. Waha tacked on 8.5 cents to average 32.0 cents.
Maintenance on Northern Natural Gas (NNG) this week could limit more than 150 MMcf/d of Permian Basin volumes starting Tuesday and continuing through Friday, according to Genscape’s Bernardi.
“Several of NNG’s accounting groups in West Texas will have their capacities limited for station maintenance and pipeline inspections,” Bernardi said. “The most impactful of these limitations will be for the Mitchell to Gaines Group, where capacity will be limited to 340 MMcf/d” through Friday. “This cap would represent a cut of around 160 MMcf/d versus the past month’s average.
“The Brownfield North, Spraberry 12-inch and Spraberry Station Groups will also have their capacities limited for all or part of this four-day period. This work could put additional downward pressure on Permian-area hubs by constraining gas within the basin.”
NatGasWeather was calling for mild to warm conditions to “dominate” the United States this week, with highs reaching the 60s to 80s, resulting in “very light demand.”
“There will be slightly cooler exceptions across the far northern U.S. as a weather system exits the Rockies and tracks through mid-week,” the forecaster said. “A second weather system will bring heavy showers to the south central U.S. and Texas, although still warm with highs of 70s and 80s.”
The mild temperatures inspired generally small price adjustments through much of Texas and Louisiana Monday.
From Wednesday to Friday this week, maintenance-related outages on Millennium Pipeline could cut around 380 MMcf/d of mainline capacity, potentially shutting in some production and impacting deliveries into New England, according to Genscape analyst Josh Garcia.
As a result of the maintenance work, “capacity through the Wagoner West throughput meter will be reduced to as low as 467 MMcf/d from a normal capacity of 1,226 MMcf/d, indicating 377 MMcf/d of impacted flows compared to the previous 14-day average,” Garcia said. “This event will likely shut in some Millennium production and increase spreads between Millennium” and Algonquin Gas Transmission given impacts to downstream supply. Still, “flows have recently trended downwards with warming weather.”