Price Changes Mostly Downward; Volatility Easing Up

Normally a trading day in which many points record price movement of half a dollar to a dollar or more would be considered rather volatile. But after more than a week in which most of the market recorded daily changes spanning several dollars, Tuesday's activity seemed rather sedate by comparison. No doubt many traders welcomed a break from the recent spate of hyper-volatility.

Although a majority of Tuesday's quotes were to the downside, the overall price picture was mixed. Snowy Midwest points saw gains of 20-60 cents or so, while some Midcontinent locations ranged from flat to up or down only a little more than a dime. And much of the West outside the Permian Basin/Waha market ranged from essentially flat in Southern California and at Stanfield to up as much as 40 cents in the Rockies, Pacific Northwest and Western Canada.

One source thought overall prices might have been even weaker if not for early support from the screen. But he confessed to having no clue about why April natural gas futures, after trading 20-30 cents higher during morning cash business, subsequently went into the red and ended the day with a loss of just over 12 cents. The crude oil and heating oil contracts, however, made solid advances, with crude exceeding $37/bbl for a while and retreating only back to $36.89.

Some spring-like signs are showing up temporarily in the lower South ahead of the approach of a new cold front. Meanwhile, a winter storm is moving eastward from the Midwest, but may spare all but upstate New York and upper New England from freezing precipitation. Mountain-area snow in the Pacific Northwest and upper Rockies is helping to keep demand somewhat strong in the West.

Cash numbers were coming off early but then rallied later, said a Northeast utility buyer. The late firmness might have been due to "the forecast showing Thursday as our coldest day of the week." His company's load is unusually high for this time of year; "we're running 50-60,000 Dth/d higher sendout than normal." The buyer saw one good sign in easing transportation constraints, saying, "On Monday we nominated some IT on Tetco [Texas Eastern] and it's not getting cut today [Tuesday]."

But a little pipeline trouble was showing up in the Midwest. ANR advised shippers Tuesday afternoon "that Alliance Pipeline's deliveries to ANR have fallen significantly short of confirmed nomination levels in the last two gas days. ANR Pipeline may not be able to continue deliveries for shippers whose receipts originate from Alliance. All shippers must ensure that their volumes are being delivered to ANR by Alliance." If no mitigating actions are taken, an OFO could become necessary, ANR said.

Weather 2000 in New York City offered this commentary: "With 'climatological winter' technically ending last Friday with the conclusion of the month of February, it is psychologically understandable how people will naturally feel as though a 'new leaf' is turned or a 'new chapter' is started with March. Thus, no matter how brutal, record-breaking, cold or snowy October-February was...that is behind us now, right? After all, March contains the 'first day of spring' and is often symbolized by the cherry blossoms of the Mid-Atlantic.

"But every so often, 'winter' trudges on straight through March, April and even into May with cold air and frozen precipitation. It's hard to convince New Yorkers that 'winter' is now over when it was never colder on March 3rd in New York City's recorded history (130 + years) than it was Monday morning when the mercury plummeted to 10.9 degrees and biting wind-chills well below zero. Or convincing Chicago residents that spring is only 15 days away when a foot of snow is expected and highs may not surpass the 20s over the coming weekend."

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