Physical gas prices for Thursday delivery tumbled once again in Wednesday's trading as temperatures in some metropolitan locations were expected to approach seasonal norms while traders said the expected heavy snowfall from Winter Storm Pax actually was dampening demand. All locations reported multi-dollar losses and when averaged over the entire country, next-day gas prices tumbled more than $2.00.
East and Northeast locations came in with multi-dollar losses and Gulf points were off upwards of $1.50. Futures prices stabilized, with March easing 0.2 cent to $4.822 and April giving up 1.7 cents to $4.553. March crude oil gained 43 cents to $100.37/bbl.
Observers cited the heavy snow and ice as curtailing demand. "
A lot of times demand actually falls in a snowy type situation,” said a Houston-based industry veteran. “People will go home and raise their thermostats a couple of degrees, but that won't change things, but if you shut down an office building or an industrial facility, that's different. Also if there are any power outages, or lines going down, that cut off the plants too.
“Nobody does anything. Look at the pictures of Atlanta, the roads are deserted."
Residents of the South had good reason to stay home, with Pax forecast to trek northward up the East Coast.
"After bringing damaging ice and heavy snow to the South, Winter Storm Pax will impact the Northeast through Wednesday night into Friday, including the heavily populated Northeast I-95 corridor,” said The Weather Channel.
Through Thursday, “low pressure will slide up near or off the East Coast. As is almost always the case, the exact track of the coastal low will be crucial. A track a bit farther offshore would draw snow toward the coast, while a farther inland track would shift the rain/snow line farther inland.
“Although subtle differences in the track of low could make a difference in where the rain/snow sets up, there is confidence that a swath of the Northeast will be impacted by heavy snow and strong winds."
Temperatures in major markets were forecast to rise. Forecaster Wunderground.com predicted that the high Wednesday of 25 in New York City would reach 36 Thursday and 39 Friday. The seasonal high in New York is 41. Washington DC's Wednesday high of 30 was seen making it to 36 on Thursday and 42 Friday; the norm is 46. Chicago's 28 high on Wednesday was expected to rise to 31 Thursday and slide to 24 Friday. The normal high is 35.
Gas for Thursday delivery at the Algonquin Citygates plunged $7.38 to $15.64, and deliveries to Iroquois Waddington were down by $7.12 to $14.29. Parcels on Tennessee Zone 6 200 L dropped $7.13 to $15.06.
Major eastern metropolitan areas saw their next-day gas quotes drop as well. Deliveries on Transco Zone 6 into New York City skidded $12.94 to $7.80, and gas on Tetco M-3 Delivery dropped $10.36 to $7.14. Packages on Transco Leidy fell 51 cents to $2.70, and gas on Dominion for Thursday delivery skidded $1.51 to $5.53.
In the West, next-day gas fell as warmer temperatures were seen and production returned to normal. A Denver producer cited wells coming back from freeze-offs on milder temperatures. "We're still looking at $5.29 [CIG]m and that's not bad. Henry Hub [next-day physical] is over $6.00 and it’s just a question of if we're going to have a cold East and warm West. That will widen the differential every time, but no one is complaining about $5.00 gas.
"If I had said three months ago that we would be looking at $5.00 gas, people would have said I was nuts."
Temperatures across the nation’s mid-section were forecast to rise. Wunderground.com said Salt Lake City's high Wedneday of 48 was expected to rise to 51 Thursday and 56 on Friday. The normal high is 42. Denver's Wednesday high of 48 was anticipated to rise to 56 on Thursday and easing to 55 on Friday; the seasonal high is 45. Kansas City's 33 on Wednesday was predicted to make it to 42 on Thursday before sliding back to 32 on Friday. The normal high during mid February is 42.
Next-day gas delivered to CIG mainline fell 77 cents to $5.29, and gas at the Cheyenne Hub fell $1.18 to $5.49. Deliveries at Opal dropped $1.06 to $5.31, and gas on Northwest Pipeline Wyoming skidded 95 cents to $5.28.
Gulf prices slipped as well. Gas on Transco Zone 3 declined $1.55 to $5.96, and parcels on Tennessee 500 L slid $1.79 to $5.78. Gas at the Henry Hub came in at $6.15, down $1.58, and gas on Columbia Gulf Mainline was $1.69 lower to average $5.90.
WeatherBELL Analytics expects near-term cold nationally followed by moderation. In its Wednesday morning 20-day forecast, it predicted an accumulation of 160.4 heating degree days (HDD) in the one- to five-day period, well above last year's 115.5 and a 30-year average of 127.6. However, in the six- to 10-day period, it forecasts 112.3 HDD, or well short of last year's 138.4 HDD and behind the 30-year average of 117.4 HDD.
WeatherBELL meteorologist Joe Bastardi is expecting cold, followed by a warming trend, and then cooling. "I have little faith in the GFS Ensembles once we pass day 10, as they are all over the place. Instead, I stand with the ECMWF Ensembles. They both say the same thing weeks one and two, but the ECMWF Ensembles have some details, which I have to touch on.
"The basic idea is a cold week one in the East and Plains reverses completely in week two and then reverses again in week three. However, the return of cold the next time has a subtle twist. It's mild in Western Canada for a time as the trough over Alaska changes shape and allows milder air to come into western Canada. This means that we are not likely, at least at the start, to have the kind of strong cold relative to normal that the major outbreaks this year have had."
Futures traders Wednesday saw the warming trend as putting downward pressure on prices with $5.00 as "unsustainable." A Midwest trader said "a trading range in nearby futures between about $4.55 and $5.00 is expected through the rest of this week. A breakout of this range will likely await next week's trade that will be heavily influenced by weekend temperature updates that will stretch to the beginning of March."
Market technicians versed in Elliott Wave and retracement analysis see a somewhat resurrected bullish case. "Has natgas survived a near death experience?" asked United ICAP analyst Brian LaRose on Tuesday. "With the market retaking critical support at $4.733-4.649, we must leave that possibility open. However, to further the case for bottoming action and a possible resumption of the up trend, we will next need to see $4.980-5.011 exceeded. Based on the short-term technicals (and the last two weeks of price action), do not count the bulls out."
Expectations for Thursday's Energy Information Administration storage report are coming in about 60 Bcf greater than historical averages. Kyle Cooper of IAF Advisors sees a draw of 228 Bcf, and Ritterbusch and Associates calculates a pull of 225 Bcf. A Reuters poll of 25 analysts revealed a sample mean of 233 Bcf with a range of 205 Bcf to 263 Bcf. Last year, 152 Bcf was withdrawn and the five-year average comes in at a draw of 162 Bcf.