Continuing its run of sleepy activity, April natural gas gained 6.3 cents Tuesday to close at $6.910 after bouncing within a slim 8-cent range from $6.880 to $6.960. Traders are basically on cruise control as the winter cold gives way to the spring shoulder period, with no one yet really ready to start betting on summer conditions.
Referring to the natural gas market's recent trading as "utterly lackluster," enerjay LLC broker Jay Levine said Tuesday that while "it's easy to get impatient, waiting for something big to happen in the markets, I'll remind you that patience is a virtue and not everything that happens is, or has to be, big. This is, after all, a shoulder period. [Monday's] sleep-fest -- patience aside, any other characterization misses the mark -- is merely a continuation of a complex under pressure (and technically very oversold) with spring in the wings. Whether or not the market has a spring in its step -- a bounce in the making -- is yet to be seen. And I think you will, even if we have to make new lows first."
Levine noted that the bottom line is there are some hurdles that energy faces to find higher prices. "Technical and psychological uncertainties are not helping as much as they have been for quite some time," he said. "While I am somewhat of an eternal bull, because none of these prices really are historically cheap, that posture has been dampened significantly over the last month or two, largely because of my concern over the global equity markets. Any curtailment in economic growth is not going to favor the energy markets achieving higher prices.
"A couple of the layers that have made me as bullish as I have been have been removed over the past several months. I am soft the energy complex, borderline bearish. I have enough signs on the horizon to make me more concerned about softness rather than strength," Levine added. "That said, if one were to play devil's advocate, you have to be cognizant of the fragile nature of the market and what could go wrong. There are enough cautionary signs on the road -- upcoming summer and hurricane season, less gas in storage than last year -- to make one pause and reflect, and that is likely what we have been seeing the last couple of weeks. The market is pretty indecisive and does not know what to do, so it does nothing."
As far as price targets go, Levine sees support at $6.750, $6.505 and then $6.250. He said resistance could be encountered at $6.955, $7.175 and $7.650.
Temperatures are forecast to warm over major energy markets. "The next 10 days will be the warmest nationwide since November as a surge of May-like air takes over and centers itself in the areas where winter had made a strong comeback," said AccuWeather meteorologist Joe Bastardi. He added that five-day average temperatures 15 degrees higher than normal "are likely over the Midwest and Ohio Valley in the period starting Wednesday. Conversely, the Southwest cools dramatically and a steady parade of energy through the West in the next 10-15 days will be a big forecast problem."
Traders do not seem concerned about the great warm-up. "The temperature forecasts are becoming less important to pricing direction," said Jim Ritterbusch of Ritterbusch and Associates. He added that they are maintaining a trading concept that "downside possibilities are limited" and pointed to the recent declines as "casual" even though price lows in place for as long as two months were breached.
In Ritterbusch's view, a telling indication of the relative resilience of natural gas futures is that the April-May spread has not widened as April futures continue to post new lows. "The spread remains well supported above lows of about March 9th during a time period when April futures have declined by almost 20 cents. Although spreads further down the curve are not indicating as much support, we are viewing this front spread stability as a bullish consideration," he said in a note to clients. The April/May spread settled Monday with April at a 12.8-cent discount. On Tuesday, April narrowed that spread to an 11-cent discount to May.
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