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Marcellus, Mid-Atlantic Pace Double-Digit Gains; Futures Soften

Physical natural gas for Tuesday delivery vaulted higher in Monday's trading as weather forecasts called for a midweek cooling trend in key eastern markets and the physical market played "catch-up" to the screen's 21-cent surge on Thursday.

Only one or two market points failed to make it deep into the plus column. Hefty gains were seen in the Mid-Atlantic and Marcellus, and the Midwest posted solid double-digit gains. Futures slid lower on light volume and traders still partaking of spring vacations. At the close May was down 4.4 cents to $4.697 and June had dropped 3.9 cents to $4.715. May crude oil rose 7 cents to $104.37/bbl.

Forecasters called for turbulent weather conditions in Boston. "The weather is going into drama mode [Monday] with strong wind, heavy rain, thunder, and eventually a rapid return to colder air," said David Epstein, a meteorologist with Boston.com. "A strong southerly flow over southern New England this morning is transporting maritime tropical air north. Temperatures overnight didn't fall much below 60F for a taste of summer. Although there are a lot of clouds today, many areas will make a run at 70F this afternoon."

Wunderground.com forecast that the high in Boston Monday of 69 degrees would drop to 65 on Tuesday and plunge to 54 on Wednesday. The normal high for Boston in mid-April is 58. New York City's Monday high of 64 was seen rising to 67 Tuesday before sliding to 57 Wednesday. The seasonal high in New York is 63. Philadelphia's Monday maximum of 67 was anticipated to reach 75 on Tuesday before dropping to 58 on Wednesday.

Mid-Atlantic and Marcellus points gained. Next-day gas bound for New York City on Transco Zone 6 gained 65 cents to $4.26, and deliveries to Tetco M-3 were up by 66 cents to $4.36. In the Marcellus Tuesday packages on Transco Leidy jumped 83 cents to $3.96, and deliveries to Tennessee Zone 4 Marcellus added 63 cents to $3.88.

New England points also rose. Tuesday packages at the Algonquin Citygates rose 26 cents to $4.55, and gas on Iroquois Waddington was up 19 cents to $4.89. Deliveries to Tennessee Zone 6 200 L gained 15 cents to $4.64.

Market locations in the Midwest made solid gains as temperatures in Chicago were seen dropping by double digits from Monday into Tuesday and Wednesday. Tom Skilling of the Chicago Weather Center predicted that conditions would be "sharply cooler with highs holding in the middle 50s inland but only around 50 near the lake, courtesy of north-northeast winds 10-20 mph." For Wednesday he was looking at "Continued cool with mid-50 highs about 6 degrees below seasonable normals. Cloudy overnight with showers possible late."

Gas on Alliance for Tuesday came in at $4.79, up 19 cents, and parcels at the Chicago Citygates added 18 cents to $4.78. Gas on Northern Natural Ventura rose 18 cents to $4.68.

Rocky Mountain locations posted a strong advance. Deliveries to CIG Mainline gained 33 cents to $4.55, and gas for Tuesday delivery at the Cheyenne Hub added 23 cents to $4.57. At Opal next-day parcels changed hands at $4.60, up 22 cents, and on Transwestern San Juan gas rose 24 cents to $4.60.

In spite of the losses in the futures arena, traders were of the opinion that "this is still a good market to be in." They pointed out that the day's high of $4.789 was above Thursday's high of $4.744 and Monday's low of $4.687 was well above Thursday's low of $4.484.

"No one is talking $5, but it is vary feasible. We are only 30 cents away. We are not getting any significant [storage] builds at these levels."

Following Thursday's extraordinarily lean 24 Bcf storage injection, analysts see the market as tighter given the thin build, but they do not see a clear path to heftier storage injections. For the moment, the market signal is to the producing community to step up output.

Tim Evans of Citi Futures Perspective sees the small injection as "adding to market worries over a slow start to the storage injection season. The refill was less than both the 34-36 Bcf consensus estimates and the 37 Bcf five-year average for the date. At 850 Bcf, U.S. total  storage was also 850 Bcf lower than a year ago and 1,010 Bcf below the five-year average.

"Since the storage flows represent the intersection between supply and demand for the week, we don't really know the extent to which the bullish surprise for last week reflected an unexpected drop in supply or demand that was more than anticipated. What it does imply is a tighter supply-demand balance that could carry over into the weeks ahead."

Others are holding their current short positions. Mike DeVooght of DEVO Capital Management noted that the "build was smaller than anticipated and the gas market rallied to a six week high. On a trading basis, we will hold short positions and look for the market to continue to work back toward the $4 level," he said in a weekend report to clients.

Specifically, trading accounts should continue to hold short May futures previously rolled from an April sale at $5.00 to 5.10, and end-users should stand aside. Producers and those with exposure to lower prices should hold short a May-October strip at $4.20 to 4.30 as well as a second position (May-October) from $4.50. The May-October strip settled Thursday at $4.760.

Forecasters are calling for cool weather in the near term. In its Monday morning six- to 10-day outlook, WSI Corp. showed below and much below normal temperatures north of a broad arc extending from Montana to Kentucky to Connecticut. "[Monday's] forecast has trended considerably colder over most of the Midwest and Northeast while warmer on the West Coast compared to Friday's forecast. Forecast confidence is about average, although there is some question as to how aggressively cold air penetrates the South.

"The ECMWF [European model] hangs up the cold front over the Tennessee Valley, which would keep areas south of CVG-DCA [Cincinnati-Washington, DC] warm through early next week. The a.m. forecast preferred a more aggressive polar high with cool air digging as far south as the Tennessee Valley and lower mid-Atlantic."

Tom Saal, vice president at INTL FC Stone in Miami, said "professional speculators are 'hovering' just under their [maximum] net long position...A thrust through their 200,000 [maximum] could be explosive!"

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