• February Nymex futures up 2.7 cents to $2.162/MMBtu; March up 1.9 cents to $2.153
  • Models “flip-flopping between milder and colder trends every other run for the important Jan. 15-21 period”: NatGasWeather
  • “As the March contract assumes the front-month role at the end of January...growing downward pressure may turn the March-April spread increasingly negative”: EBW
  • SoCal spot prices mixed as Genscape models extended stretch of below-normal temps

A cooler look in the midday weather data Tuesday helped nudge natural gas futures a few cents higher, though forecasters expressed some skepticism because of recent inconsistency in the models. The February Nymex contract gained 2.7 cents Tuesday to settle at $2.162/MMBtu. March picked up 1.9 cents to $2.153, while April settled at $2.146, up 1.1 cents.

In the spot market, amid generally mild conditions nationwide, forecasts offered enough chills to rally hubs in New England and in the Western United States, helping push NGI’s Spot Gas National Avg. a penny higher to $2.090.

Both the American and European datasets shifted colder Tuesday after advertising warmer trends overnight, according to NatGasWeather.

The data has been “flip-flopping between milder and colder trends every other run for the important Jan. 15-21 period as the weather models struggle to determine just how much frigid Arctic air over southwestern Canada will release across the Midwest,” the forecaster said. “...This will need close monitoring, as colder trends could quickly show in the days ahead, which will be required to finally end bearish weather sentiment.”

Bespoke Weather Services said it continues to see enough tightness in the supply/demand balance to support prices should Mother Nature provide a sustained stretch of “even just normal” temperatures.

However, “that has been a tough chore, and the hope we saw” in Monday’s midday data “was not able to hold in the overnight model cycle,” Bespoke said, noting that this raises the question of whether cooler trends in Tuesday’s midday runs will endure overnight. “We remain skeptical of cold out in the 11-15-day period until it is able to progress forward into the six- to 10-day.

“We do still see some chance for tropical forcing shifts to allow some of the western cold to escape eastward late month, so there is some risk that, this time, it is not just a bunch of modeled false alarms.”

With warmer-than-normal conditions dominating forecasts, the March/April spread, sometimes called the “widowmaker” spread, shifted into negative territory in recent sessions. Last Thursday and Friday -- and again on Monday -- the March contract settled lower than April.

“The spread is one gauge of winter risk premiums built into the front-month contract,” analysts at EBW Analytics Group said. “If there were a greater risk of running out of natural gas storage by the end of winter, the spread would be sharply higher.”

March outgained April in Tuesday’s session, settling 0.7 cents higher. In the near term, even a “short-lived” cold snap could prove enough to keep the spread back in positive territory, according to EBW.

“As the March contract assumes the front-month role at the end of January, however, growing downward pressure may turn the March-April spread increasingly negative” and potentially send futures below $2.00, the EBW analysts said.

Wet Northwest

A number of locations in the Rockies and California posted double-digit gains Tuesday as the National Weather Service (NWS) was calling for heavy precipitation over the Pacific Northwest.

“The Pacific Northwest will continue to be in an active wet pattern with scattered to widespread coastal rains and mountains snows,” the NWS said. Some areas could see a foot or more of snow. “...As the cold front tracks further through the Rockies and out into the Plains by Thursday, showers and thunderstorms will overspread the Mississippi Valley ahead of its arrival.

“Another round of precipitation will begin to move onshore the Pacific Northwest by late Thursday and continue into the weekend, spreading the snow across the Intermountain West/Rockies and into portions of the Great Basin.”

Northwest Sumas climbed 30.5 cents to $2.770 Tuesday, while Kern River picked up 18.0 cents to $2.670. In California, Malin jumped 21.5 cents to $2.685.

Farther south, price moves were mixed. SoCal Border Avg. climbed 23.5 cents to $2.745, while SoCal Citygate eased 26.0 cents to $5.185.

Genscape Inc. meteorologists were predicting an extended cold snap for Southern California starting Wednesday, raising the prospect of more withdrawals from the restricted Aliso Canyon storage facility. This also should mean continued upward pressure on spot prices in the region, Genscape analyst Joe Bernardi said.

Southern California Gas (SoCalGas) has pulled 8.9 Bcf from Aliso since Nov. 20, with the utility sending out 2.981 Bcf/d on average to cover demand during that time frame, according to Bernardi. That’s the highest mark for that period since 2016.

“However, during that stretch of time in 2016, SoCal Citygate basis price averaged just 16 cents and never got above 50 cents,” the analyst said. “This past year, from Nov. 20 through the end of the end of the year, SoCal Citygate basis price averaged $3.34 and never got below $2.05.”

While SoCal Citygate prices have been elevated on average, they have not spiked to the extreme highs observed in the 2017/18 and 2018/19 winters, Bernardi said.

“The difference so far between this winter and the previous two has been greater availability for imports and storage withdrawals,” Bernardi said. “...With Genscape meteorologists forecasting colder-than-normal weather for Southern California” starting Wednesday and continuing for the next week and a half, “prices could continue to remain elevated, and more withdrawals from Aliso Canyon appear likely. SoCalGas’ overall storage has remained fairly robust thus far: the latest system-wide inventory is 111% of the average for this date following the Aliso leak.”

Meanwhile, New England prices rallied Tuesday as temperatures in the region were expected to cool off somewhat over the next few days. Algonquin Citygate added 20.0 cents to average $3.225, while Iroquois Zone 2 jumped 67.5 cents to $3.100.

Maxar’s Weather Desk was calling for lows in Boston to drop from the mid-30s on Tuesday down into the low-20s by Thursday.

Elsewhere, prices were steady throughout much of the middle third of the Lower 48. Regional averages from the Gulf Coast to the Southeast all traded within a nickel of even, and it was a similar story for the Midwest, Midcontinent and Appalachia. Henry Hub averaged $2.105, up half a penny.