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Day After Across the Board Gains, All Points Fall

At least one source was convinced that resolving end-of-month imbalances had been chiefly responsible for Wednesday's price gains across the board, because the cash market switched to losses at all points Thursday with little overall change in weak weather fundamentals. The launch of the May aftermarket got an additional negative nudge from Wednesday's decline of 3.7 cents by June futures as they assumed prompt-month status.

Thursday's declines were mixed fairly evenly across geographic market areas in ranging from a little less than a nickel to about 40 cents. Only CenterPoint-West and the Florida citygates dropped by less than a dime.

Negative prior-day screen guidance will continue for Friday's cash market after the June futures contract shed another 3 cents Thursday (see related story). Even though the Energy Information Administration's report of an 82 Bcf addition to storage during the week ending April 24 was just barely higher than consensus expectations centered around 80 Bcf, Nymex traders obviously deemed it bearish in comparison with smaller year-ago and five-year average builds.

The West participated in Thursday's softness despite continuing forecasts of freezing lows in the northern Rockies and parts of Western Canada, along with an easing of supply shortfall issues. PG&E ended a high-inventory OFO, while Kern River said linepack had returned to normal Thursday in the two farthest upstream of its four segments but remained low in the two farthest downstream segments.

The Midwest and Northeast will be moving in opposite temperature directions Friday, but neither region will feature much weather-based gas demand. The Midwest will be cooling off to lows in the 40s (and occasionally upper 30s), but that will be largely offset by moderate to cool daytime highs. And the Northeast will be warming up to pleasant highs on either side of 70.

Meanwhile, the South will remain seasonably warm with highs mostly in the low 80s, which is enough to spur air conditioning use but unlikely to get many gas-fired peaking generation units dispatched.

A Gulf Coast trader said it was obviously better for many people to buy extra spot gas Wednesday than to pay month-ending imbalance cash-out prices to the pipelines, "but that's over now" that May business has begun. Cash-outs were able to boost prices Wednesday in the face of generally weak weather-based load, but Thursday's market no longer had that supportive factor, she noted.

The trader said she was willing to bet that weekend numbers will be getting even softer Friday. She also sees little chance for a rally in the coming week, saying "typical shoulder month weather" will be the dominant influence.

Transco's Imbalance OFO starting Friday due to high linepack (see Daily GPI, April 30) is likely to be just the start of a lot of similar measures in the next few weeks, the trader said, adding that everybody is going to have to work to stay balanced during a low-demand May market.

A Northeast utility buyer perceived a normal May bidweek, saying his company "got a little ahead" on its storage injection schedule during April, so its May baseload gas purchases were minimal. Currently it's cool but not really cold in his area, he said, adding that "we tend to go from winter to summer pretty quickly" with little springtime transition. He noted that Tennessee has "a lot of maintenance" projects scheduled during May, but didn't expect any problem in working around them under shoulder month market conditions.

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