Physical gas for Wednesday delivery jumped in Tuesday's trading as Memorial Day warmth was forecast to give way to temperatures more representative of April. From the Marcellus up through New England, hefty double-digit gains were the rule, but nearly all points were solidly in the black.
California points rose on hefty storage restocking demand, while Gulf Coast and Texas markets posted somewhat softer gains. A strong screen also aided the higher physical quotes. At the close of futures trading, June had risen by 10.0 cents to $4.505 and July was up 10.6 cents to $4.511. July crude oil eased 24 cents to $104.11/bbl.
An abrupt change in temperatures in major eastern markets had buyers scrambling. Forecaster AccuWeather.com predicted that New York City's Tuesday high of 85 degrees would plunge to 64 Wednesday before rising to 67 on Thursday. The seasonal high in New York is 74 this time of year. Boston's Tuesday high of 67 was expected to drop to a chilly 56 Wednesday before recovering to 65 by Thursday. The normal late-May high in Boston is 70. Baltimore's 90 degree reading Tuesday was seen dropping to 81 Wednesday and falling to 67 by Thursday. The normal high in Baltimore this time of year is 77.
"Temperatures more appropriate for April will return to much of the Northeast during the middle of this week, following Memorial Day warmth," said AccuWeather.com meteorologist Alex Sosnowski. "A push of cool air is forecast to advance southward from eastern Canada and will reach New England on Tuesday, the upper mid-Atlantic during Wednesday and part of the southern mid-Atlantic by Thursday. In the wake of the cool push, known as a backdoor front, temperatures will be slashed by 15 to 30 degrees Fahrenheit in many cases, when compared to their 80-degree-plus levels from Memorial Day.
"The warm air never made it into northern New England, but the people in Boston have already felt the cool air on Tuesday. After a high near 80 F, temperatures were hovering in the lower 50s in the city Tuesday afternoon. By Wednesday, temperatures will be no better than the 60s around New York City and may struggle to reach 70 in Philadelphia. On Thursday, temperatures may hold in the 60s around Washington, DC. The cool air will reach inland as well, but the change may be a bit more gradual. Cities from Albany, NY, to Scranton, PA, and Hagerstown, MD, will experience the cool-down over a couple of days."
Gas at the Algonquin Citygates for Wednesday delivery surged 65 cents to $3.74, and gas at Iroquois Waddington jumped 75 cents to $4.71.
The Marcellus and Mid-Atlantic also experienced outsized gains. Deliveries to Leidy Transco jumped 24 cents to $2.27, and gas on Tennessee Zone 4 Marcellus added a stout 35 cents to $2.34. Parcels bound for New York City on Transco Zone 6 tacked on 34 cents to $3.27, and deliveries on Tetco M-3 rose 31 cents to $3.27.
California prices rose as mild weather over the holiday weekend prompted both PG&E and SoCal to issue OFOs. "PG&E issued a system-wide OFO with a 5% tolerance band for Saturday," said industry consultant Genscape in a morning report. High inventory was the reason given for the OFO. "SoCal issued an OFO for Saturday, Sunday and Monday. When an OFO or EFO has been called, customers' supplies are required to be within the tolerance requirement of daily usage to avoid noncompliance penalties. SoCal requires shippers to ensure that all deliveries into the SoCal Gas systems are within 110% of expected usage."
Genscape calculated that "California demand averaged 4.4 Bcf/d in the past week. Demand for [Tuesday] is 4.7 Bcf/d compared to the past month's average of 4.7 Bcf/d. While demand is weak, shippers have been aggressively shipping gas into California to inject into storage facilities. Imports averaged 7.5 Bcf/d in the past week and 7.4 Bcf/d in the past month. This is much higher than May 2013's average of 6.9 Bcf/d."
According to Genscape, storage injections "averaged 1.8 Bcf/d in the past week. This is stronger than May 2013's average of 1.0 Bcf/d of injection. Storage inventory is currently about 130 Bcf lower than the level of 2012 and 2013."
Deliveries to Malin rose by 10 cents to $4.35, and parcels at the PG&E Citygates added 8 cents to $4.91. At the SoCal Border next-day deliveries changed hands at $4.52, up 12 cents, and SoCal Citygate gas was seen 21 cents higher at $4.83.
Futures traders hinted that options expiration may have come into play as June settled right at $4.50. A Midwest trader noted "gravitation" to the $4.50 strike and that options strategies may have been in play. "[W]e see another strong storage injection on Thursday that will likely cap this week's gains and could force pricing back briefly to below the 4.40 mark," he said.
Other analysts are looking for stout injections to pressure prices in the upcoming weeks. "With the lower demand shoulder period setting up the market for notably larger storage injections ahead for at least the next few weeks, there's no real stoutly bullish catalysts to act as a supporting mechanism to rally prices for the time being. With that said, it wouldn't be out of the question for prices to test the $4.20s in coming days," said Alan Lammey, analyst with WeatherBELL Analytics.
Lammey said a major source of demand for power load may be on the sidelines. "While there are seasonally normal temperatures across a bulk of the U.S., which is supporting prices to a degree, it's important to note that nearly the entire Lone Star State is being engulfed with heavy rains, which is reducing the overall cooling degree days. This should increase the storage injections for the subsequent reflective storage reporting week."
He also said weather-wise "the month of June doesn't appear to be a bullish driver for prices either in terms of overall cooling degree days. Unless there's some major shift in the fundamentals, I can't see the price of gas futures (prompt-month) being much supported for now. In fact, it appears there's more inclination for further near-term downside action than upside action at this juncture."
In the near term, however, weather looks somewhat supportive. MDA Weather Services in its Tuesday morning six- to 10-day outlook said the forecast "remains warmer than normal for much of the nation with outlook progressing fairly close to expectations from Friday as upper-level ridging remains stout across the northern portions of North America. The East Coast is a little cooler to start the period than Friday's progression, a lingering impact of the cooler one- to five-day period, though marginal aboves make a return around the middle of the period.
"Above-normal temperatures are focused over the Midwest to the interior East ahead of a slight cool down over the Midcontinent as a weak upper level disturbance arrives late."
Risk managers counsel holding current short positions. "Since storage is well below the five-year average, many analysts are concerned about the market's ability to replenish storage prior to the winter season," said Mike DeVooght, president of DEVO Capital, in a weekly note to clients. "Over the next couple months, the market will be quite sensitive to traders. The storage injection numbers will be watching the weather closely in the coming weeks for signs of above-average temperatures that could slow the rate of injections this summer. If we get an average cooling season, we should see the storage gap steadily tighten through the summer. On a trade basis, we will hold current short positions."
DeVooght says trading accounts should hold current short positions originated when April was trading at $5.00 to $5.10. End-users should stand aside, and producers and those with exposure to lower prices should hold the balance of a May-October strip from $4.20 to $4.30 and also stay short the remainder of a second summer strip initiated at $4.50. The summer strip settled Friday at $4.389.