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NatGas Physical, Futures Prices Weaken With Spring Around the Corner

With Thursday marking the first official day of spring, physical natural gas for Wednesday delivery weakened in Tuesday's trading with quotes down about a quarter on average and nearly all points recording losses. The largest declines were seen in the Marcellus and Northeast, but notable exceptions to the slate of lower reads were a couple points in the Midwest east of a major storm system that pummeled the Rocky Mountains Tuesday and was expected to grind its way into the Great Lakes and Midwest by Wednesday. At the close of futures trading April had retreated 8.0 cents to $4.456 and May was down 6.8 cents to $4.424. April crude oil added $1.62 to $99.70.

New England points fell the hardest as forecasts called for a stubborn rise in temperatures. Forecaster AccuWeather.com predicted that the high in Boston Tuesday of 34 would reach 40 by Wednesday and 53 on Thursday. The normal high in mid-March in Boston is 46. Albany, NY's Tuesday high of 39 was seen easing to 38 on Wednesday before making it up to 47 on Thursday. The normal high in Albany is 46. New York City's 43 high Tuesday was predicted to rise to 44 on Wednesday before adding another nine degrees Thursday. The seasonal high in New York City is 51.

Alex Sosonowski, AccuWeather.com meteorologist, said "In the wake of the recent snowstorm that stayed south of New England, temperatures are forecast to reach well into the 40s late in the week as the wild ride continues with the March weather. While temperatures will rebound as the week progresses throughout the Northeast, the warmup will be slow through Wednesday. Highs are forecast to be within a few degrees of 40 F Wednesday. Part of the central Appalachians and New England may have some ice and a wintry mix. Temperatures will reach into the 50s on Thursday as spring officially arrives in the afternoon."

Gas for delivery Wednesday into the Algonquin Citygates tumbled $7.71 to $6.84, and gas at Iroquois Waddington came in at $6.03, down 31 cents. At Tennessee Zone 6 200 L next-day packages were seen at $6.96, down $6.53.

On Transco Leidy Wednesday gas changed hands at $2.56, down $1.19 and at Tennessee Zone 4 Marcellus quotes came in $1.15 lower at $2.35.

Parcels on Dominion shed 12 cents to $4.09 and gas on Columbia Gas TCO was off 9 cents to $4.46. On Tetco M-3 Delivery buyers paid 19 cents less at $4.48 and gas bound for New York City on Transco Zone 6 fell $1.16 to $4.77.

In the Midwest conditions were far different and next-day gas was well bid ahead of blustery, late winter conditions. Sosnowski reported that "A storm pushing out of the Rockies will produce a swath of heavy snow from parts of Nebraska and South Dakota to portions of Minnesota, northern Wisconsin and the Upper Peninsula of Michigan through midweek. The storm deposited up to 2 feet of snow in parts of Montana since the start of the week and close to a foot of snow in parts of Wyoming and western South Dakota."

"Moving forward, the storm has the potential to unload a half of a foot of snow in some locations from north-central Nebraska to central Minnesota and along the southern shoreline of Lake Superior. The storm will pack some wind as well. Local whiteouts are possible where the wind combines with falling or already fallen snow. Winds averaging between 15 and 30 mph with higher gusts are forecast to cause blowing and drifting snow during and in the wake of the storm into Tuesday night over the central Plains."

He added that "While a push of chilly air follows the midweek storm, a stronger push of cold air is forecast to follow yet another storm with snow at the end of the week."

Quotes to the west and into Chicago firmed. At the Chicago Citygates next-day gas added 17 cents to $4.86 and at Joliet packages for Wednesday changed hands at $5.17, down 2 cents. On Northern Natural Ventura gas was seen at $4.75, 9 cents higher, and on Northern Border Ventura gas for next-day delivery came in at $4.78, up 14 cents. At Demarcation Wednesday gas was quoted at $4.72, up 9 cents.

Midwest marketers find themselves still dealing with higher March bidweek prices charged to customers compared to lower current quotes. "We went in kind of heavy on baseload for March because we were concerned about the weather and whether we could actually get the gas," said a Michigan marketer. "We had to charge our customers on Consumers and Michcon over $12, and they don't like it. At this point we are just shuffling gas around," he said.

Longer term weather forecasts call for continued cold, but traders are looking beyond to milder temperatures and shoulder season injections. MDA Weather Services in its six- to 10-day outlook shows an extended ridge of below to much below normal temperatures extending from Milwaukee, WI to Corpus Christi, TX and from the Continental Divide to the Eastern Seaboard. "Widespread strong cold remains in the forecast with the outlook [Tuesday] pushing colder yet in this period. Model guidance in the large-scale-EPO [Eastern Pacific Oscillation] pattern point towards two shots of strong late season cold dropping south from Canada into the central and eastern U.S. as ridging is seen from the north Pacific and Alaska into parts of the Arctic.

"While the first cold shot trended a little colder the second one comes with substantially more punch from the Midwest to the East mid to late period. In addition to the strong cold enough activity remains in the pattern to keep the threat of wintry weather in play."

MDA sees risks to the forecast including "the potential for yet stronger cold at the peak of this event." Also, "a warm up over the central U.S. late could come with greater intensity."

Analysts see the forecast cold more or less baked into the market. "This market is currently relinquishing a sizable portion of yesterday's strong gains with the cooler updates to the temperature views largely discounted," said Jim Ritterbusch of Ritterbusch and Associates in a morning note to clients. "From here, we expect some price consolidation mainly between yesterday's highs and Fridays lows until Thursday's storage figure offers some fresh supply side guidance. Our expected 44 Bcf withdrawal would force a sizable 30 Bcf contraction in the y over y supply deficit for a change but would induce continued expansion given the five-year average decline of 30 Bcf."

"Since we expect our figure to fall toward the low side of street ideas within this particular report, a bearish response would appear likely with values drifting potentially to fresh lows. However, we still expect longer term support to develop at the $4.25 area and we will be viewing any EIA inspired price declines later this week to around or below last week's lows as buying opportunities within the spring contracts."

Tom Saal, vice president at INTL FC Stone in Miami in his work with Market Profile expects the market to test Monday's value area at $4.559 to $4.435 before moving on and testing $4.424 to $4.394. Saal is not specific in his timing but typically the previous day's value area is tested the next day.

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