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Eastern Points Lead Broad Advance; Expiring May Vaults Higher

The spot natural gas market was hit with a double whammy in Monday's trading as temperatures were forecast to drop to as much as 15 degrees below normal at major eastern points, and the expired May futures surged higher.

The charge higher was led by the Marcellus, New England, and Mid-Atlantic, but California and the Midcontinent made hefty advances as well. At the close of futures trading May gained 14.8 cents to $4.795 and June rose by 14.1 cents to $4.799. June crude oil gained 24 cents to $100.84/bbl.

If the stronger screen wasn't enough to energize the bulls, near term weather forecasts did their best to push prices higher. From Boston to Philadelphia Wednesday's highs were sharply below normal. Forecaster Wunderground.com said Monday's high in Boston of 53 degrees would drop to 45 Tuesday and 44 on Wednesday. The normal high in Boston for late April is 60. New York City's Monday peak of 66 degrees was predicted to plunge to 51 Tuesday and 50 on Wednesday. The seasonal high in New York is 66. Philadelphia's high temperature Monday of 64 was seen skidding to 51 Tuesday and reaching 57 on Wednesday. The normal high in Philadelphia for this time of year is 66.

Rain and cool temperatures were the order of the day in the East. "[A] large low pressure in the central United States will slowly inch closer to the region, bringing periods of rain to our area Tuesday through Wednesday night," said the National Weather Service in suburban Philadelphia. "The low moves to near James Bay Canada Thursday night sending its cold front offshore. This should result in cooler, but drier weather for Friday. Cold fronts cross our region Saturday and then again early next Monday."

Gas for delivery Tuesday on Transco-Leidy surged 84 cents to $4.26 and deliveries to Tennessee Zone 4 Marcellus jumped 69 cents to $4.20. On Millenium Tuesday packages were quoted at $4.31, up 55 cents.

In New England, gas for delivery to the Algonquin Citygates gained a healthy 79 cents to $5.06 and gas on Iroquois Waddington tacked on 18 cents to $4.97. Parcels on Tennessee Zone 6 200 L rose by 60 cents to $5.02.

In the Mid-Atlantic, gas on Transco Zone 6 into New York City added 81 cents to $4.47 and packages on Tetco M-3 Delivery changed hands at $4.43, up 68 cents.

With trading for bid week over the hump, observers noted that buying for May should be less focused on the likelihood of prices moving higher than restoring depleted inventories. "You need to treat your storage like a market, like you are going to burn it," said a Houston-based industry veteran.

"You are buying gas to stick it in the ground at a price, You are not just going long, you are buying gas to put into storage for your account which needs to be rebuilt." He noted that injections for May were likely to begin in earnest. "Some of those pipes like Nicor and Northern Natural you don't start injecting as a utility until May anyway. April the further north you go is more of a turnaround, and the first two weeks of April are considered possible withdrawal months."

Eastern bid week basis was seen weak. NGI reported Algonquin Citygates at -22 cents to -15 cents, and Tetco M-3 was seen at -83.5 cents to -68 cents.

Transco-Leidy May basis was quoted at -$1.43 to -$1.05 and Tennessee Zone 4 Marcellus basis came in at -$1.46 to -$1.25.

Longer term forecasters see a continuation of a cooling trend in the Plains and Upper Midwest. WSI Corp. in its morning 11- to 15-day outlook shows below and much below normal temperatures north of a line from Buffalo, NY, to Chicago, to Casper, WY. The remainder of the country is normal, with the exception of Texas, Arkansas, Louisiana, and Mississippi, which is seen as above normal.

"[Monday's] forecast is a bit cooler in the north and warmer in the south compared to Friday's forecast. Confidence remains near to slightly below average heading into the middle of the month. All signs point to a continuation of the amplified, energy-laden pattern through day 15. As such, expect temps to end up more extreme than forecast in the central/east on any given day especially if another storm develops in a similar fashion as the current one."

Market technicians see short-term weakness developing. "Natgas had numerous, excellent opportunities to break out above the pivotal $4.760 resistance last week but failed to do so and ended the week on a weak note," said Walter Zimmermann, vice president at United ICAP, in a weekly note to clients. On a 300-minute candlestick chart Zimmermann noted that instead of breaching the $4.76 level the market reversed lower to bearish dark cloud cover. "A further corrective retreat appears on tap," he said.

More fundamental analysts see the market sputtering as well. "Looking ahead, we think that the season-to-date rally might continue to falter as the pick-up in restocking undermines the market's willpower to retain the excessive length that has recently accumulated," said Teri Viswanath, director of commodities strategy, natural gas, at BNP Paribas.

Longer term, however, she sees little change. "Despite this record-setting pace for restocking expected next month, we still see an impressive year-on-year storage deficit looming by end October. In our opinion, the absence of a 'quick fix' for inventories should once again fuel reliability concerns, enabling a restart of the injection season rally."

In its Early View Forecast, Energy Metro Desk Friday tabulated an estimated 77 Bcf storage injection for the week ended April 25. Last year, 41 Bcf was injected, and the five-year average build is 58 Bcf.

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