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Broad Decline Settles In; Traders Await Storage Stats

Physical natural gas for next-day delivery overall fell an average 2 cents Wednesday led by declines at Northeast points. Most locations fluctuated within a few pennies of unchanged and even a fire in on a Midcontinent natural gas pipeline failed to have much market impact. Eastern points were steady to lower and California locations proved firm to higher.

At the close of futures trading November had eased 3.7 cents to $3.679, and December had given up 3.0 cents to $3.839. November crude oil fell $1.88 to $101.61/bbl.

A fire and explosion on a Northern Natural Gas Co. pipeline in Oklahoma had little market impact (see related story). The 30-inch diameter mainline ruptured Tuesday night about 150 miles northwest of Oklahoma City, but there were no operational impacts, the operator said. Late Wednesday afternoon the company said that flows on the system had "returned to normal," and that it does not anticipate any impact to service.

"I think prices in Oklahoma will revert back. There has been a lot of redirecting of gas because of the fire in Harper County. Gas on Enogex and OGT was affected," said an Oklahoma producer.

Quotes for Thursday delivery on ANR SW fell 9 cents to $3.44, and NGPL Midcontinent Pool deliveries were flat at $3.59. Gas on Oklahoma Gas Transmission was seen about 2 cents lower at $3.46, while Panhandle Eastern next-day gas came in at $3.48, down 4 cents.

In the East, temperatures were expected to hold at or close to seasonal norms and power prices were mixed. Forecaster AccuWeather.com said Boston's high Wednesday of 62 would hold steady before reaching 66 on Friday. The normal high is 64. New York's 65 on Wednesday was predicted to ease to 60 Thursday and Friday, well below the seasonal norm of 66. Philadelphia, which hit a high of 65 Wednesday, was seen dropping to 58 Thursday before recovering somewhat to 60 on Friday. The normal high in Philadelphia in early October is 69.

IntercontinentalExchange reported that next-day peak power at the New England Power Pool's Massachusetts Hub rose 21 cents to $37.40/MWh and at the PJM Interconnection peak power for delivery Thursday eased 39 cents to $34.27/MWh.

Gas for next-day delivery at the Algonquin Citygates fell 1 cent to $3.70, and gas into Iroquois Waddington slipped about 4 cents to $3.94. On Tennessee Zone 6 200 L gas changed hands at $3.70, down a penny. Dominion gas for Thursday fell a penny to $3.40 and on Tetco M-3, gas was seen at $3.61, up a penny. Gas headed for New York City on Transco Zone 6 fell 4 cents to $3.61.

Traders Thursday will get an idea if Monday's and Tuesday's gains will find any kind of fundamental support with the release of storage data by the Energy Information Administration at 10:30 a.m. EDT. All indications indicate that an above-average build is on tap, in some forecasts by more than 20 Bcf relative to last year.

A poll by Reuters of 26 traders and analysts revealed a 94 Bcf average with a range from 83 Bcf to 108 Bcf. IAF Advisors of Houston is expecting a 92 Bcf increase, and industry consultant Bentek Energy is forecasting an 87 Bcf build. Last year 73 Bcf was injected and the five-year average stands at 84 Bcf.

Some analysts think the market may have gotten ahead of itself with Monday and Tuesday's 21-cent advance. Tim Evans of Citi Futures Perspective pointed out that Tuesday's settlement of $3.716 was the highest a spot contract has reached since Sept. 19. "In our view, natural gas has become something of a rally in search of a supporting reason, with some citing supportive cool temperatures in the Plains and Upper Midwest, even as the forecast was slightly warmer than a day ago, and the 11-15 day outlook features normal temperatures across most of the continental U.S., hardly a rallying cry.

"Some of this week's price strength could be seen as a belated reaction to Tropical Storm Karen after a government report from midday Sunday showed just over 1.8 Bcf/d in production shut in, somewhat more than the market had anticipated," Evans said. "But Tuesday's update showed just 81 MMcf/d in production still offline, and so we wouldn't say that recovery has taken longer than expected.

"Given the lack of a clear bullish narrative for natural gas, it's possible that we're seeing primarily a technical or seasonal rally, with the traders primarily scanning the price chart or the page on the calendar and thinking the market will move higher. If so, we note the track record for sustained rally has been mixed, with 4Q2013 sideways chop more common over the past five years than anything else."

Looking out somewhat beyond the fourth quarter, a pervasive price advance may be something of a stretch, according to observers. Credit Suisse analysts see expanding supplies keeping a lid on prices.

"There is great demand growth but very great supply growth at relatively low costs," said Credit Suisse analyst Jan Stuart, who heads the energy commodities research team. "There is terrific growth for the end of the decade" for demand growth from industrials, power generation and gas exports, among other things, he said during a conference call on Monday.

"A supply-cost model of today's known resource plays would tell us there should be ample low-cost shale production to meet new demand at sub-$5.00 prices." 

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