Natural gas futures turned in a range-bound day of trading Monday, with bulls briefly testing a key resistance area only to see prices settle close to even. In the spot market, chilly weather and precipitation spurred widespread gains at points throughout the populated Northeast; the NGI Spot Gas National Avg. jumped 14.5 cents higher to $2.300/MMBtu.
The June Nymex futures contract settled at $2.621 Monday, 0.2 cents higher on the day after going as high as $2.653. July slipped 0.2 cents to settle at $2.653, while August eased 0.3 cents to $2.671.
On a day that ultimately saw bears and bulls battle to a draw, analysts with Drillinginfo said momentum indicators had “returned to a neutral position” as of Monday.
“Prices remain range-bound, but the extension last week took prices higher, to $2.647, the highest level since mid-April at $2.653,” the firm said. “This is a key near-term area for traders, as a break above on a daily close will likely take prices up to $2.72. It remains unlikely that this market will see a dramatic move in either direction until the summer demand is better defined.
“Should the trade not confirm the range expansion up, then a decline to last week’s low ($2.514), and possibly down to $2.47, should be expected,” the Drillinginfo analysts said. “The deferred strips and their price behavior continue to remain positive and should give a clue as to the near-term direction of this market. Declines should bring the winter strip down as well, which did not occur during last month’s declines that went under $2.50.”
As of Monday EBW Analytics Group was looking for more range-bound trading from the futures market, at least for the next few days.
EBW CEO Andy Weissman said the outlook for late May into June points to multiple triple-digit storage injections in the weeks ahead. “We expect the year/year storage surplus to soar past 200 Bcf and the deficit versus the five-year average to decline sharply, pushing gas prices back down.”
The latest forecasts Monday appeared to offer little that would shake up the market’s outlook for the next two weeks. According to NatGasWeather, data over the weekend and overnight heading into Monday’s trading added a small amount of total degree days to the forecast. The midday Global Forecast System data added “slightly more demand” for Week 1 of the outlook, but this was offset by a decline in Week 2 demand.
“Overall, the timeline of major weather features to impact the U.S. was little changed, with a cool northeastern U.S. pattern to open the week, although being effectively countered by comfortable temperatures across Texas, the South and much of the Southeast,” NatGasWeather said. “As the week progresses, hotter highs of upper 80s to lower 90s will gain across the southern U.S., although this time countered by temperatures from Chicago to New York City warming into the near perfect 70s to lower 80s for very light demand.”
The coming pattern could create enough demand to keep inventory builds from “getting excessively large,” but the forecaster still expects triple-digit weekly injections to be the result.
With colder than normal temperatures and stormy conditions -- including snow in some areas -- expected in the region to start the week, spot prices shot higher across the Northeast Monday.
The National Weather Service (NWS) was calling for “an amplifying mid to upper level low across the Northeast and deepening surface low pressure off the New England coast” to result in stormy weather Monday night through Wednesday from New York state into New England.
“Temperatures are expected to be much below average Tuesday into Wednesday across these areas, with high temperatures 20 to 25 degrees below average,” the NWS said, adding that the cold temperatures were expected to “support late season high elevation accumulating snows” in the region.
Transco Zone 6 NY surged 29.0 cents to $2.485, while Algonquin Citygate jumped 29.5 cents to $2.585. Further upstream in Appalachia, prices also got a boost, with Dominion South gaining 18.0 cents to $2.330.
Late last week, Algonquin Gas Transmission began an outage at the Stony Point and Southeast compressor stations that will limit flows through Stony Point to a “summer capacity” of 1.58 Bcf/d until Aug. 9, according to Genscape Inc.
“This outage will not present cuts compared to recent flows,” analysts Josh Garcia, Julien Vandal and Margaret Jones said. “In fact, this is the highest summer capacity Stony Point has ever had, roughly 440 MMcf/d higher summer/summer. Current summer capacity through Burrillville of 700 MMcf/d is also set to return to full service by July 23, a week earlier than originally scheduled.
“This increased capacity supports higher power burns in New England and provides downside for gas and power prices for the summer.”
Meanwhile, the pending retirement of the 680 MW Pilgrim nuclear plant is one of several upcoming events in the power sector, all expected to occur June 1, that could present upside risks for natural gas prices in New England, they said. Also of note, more than 800 GW of incremental gas-fired capacity is expected to enter the market June 1, according to the analysts.
Starting Tuesday and continuing until May 21, maintenance on the Southern Star system is expected to shut in about 0.2 Bcf/d of processing plant receipts and disrupt flows in Kansas, according to Genscape analyst Dominic Eggerman.
“The Riviera Jayhawk processing plant will be shut in until May 21,” Eggerman said. “The plant has nominated an average of 195 MMcf/d over the past 30 days. Additionally, the Kansas Hugoton Delivery in Harvey County, KS, will be restricted, limiting some flows transferring into Southern Star’s southern section of the Production Zone.”
After posting discounts on deals for weekend and Monday, points in the Rockies and California posted broad gains to kick off the work week. Kern River added 18.5 cents to $2.100, while SoCal Citygate picked up 30.0 cents to $2.765.
Southern California Gas is conducting maintenance this week that could impact around 200 MMcf/d of volumes received along the California/Arizona border, according to Genscape’s Joe Bernardi.
“Total capacity at the two Topock, AZ, receipt points, where SoCalGas imports gas from El Paso and Transwestern, will be limited to zero from Tuesday through next Monday (May 20),” Bernardi said. “These two points have received a combined average of 195 MMcf/d in the past month. The Topock interconnects, together with SoCalGas’ interconnects at Needles, CA, are currently capped at a combined 270 MMcf/d of firm operational capacity due to the ongoing L235-2 and L4000 outages.”
SoCalGas could potentially offset a drop in receipts at the Topock points by increasing receipts through the Needles locations, according to the analyst.
“Any increase in Needles would need to come via increased deliveries from Transwestern to SoCalGas, as SoCalGas’ other Needles point has not received any gas from Questar’s Southern Trails pipeline following that pipe’s decommissioning and abandonment in this area last December,” Bernardi said.