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Northeast Leads Weekend Decline; Futures Struggle Higher

Physical gas for weekend and Monday delivery shuffled lower in trading Friday as traders saw little reason to purchase a three-day package given near-normal temperatures and the ability to make weekend purchases from electronic devices.

New England took the hardest fall, declining by double digits, but East Coast locations skidded as well. Gainers and losers were about evenly split, but gains were typically for just a few pennies while declines were greater. At the close of futures trading, July had risen 0.9 cent to $4.710 and August was up by 1.4 cents to $4.700. July crude oil added 18 cents to $102.66/bbl.

"There are probably a lot of traders long who would like to get rid of gas," said a Houston-based industry veteran. He said it was generally not possible to play catch-up with the pipeline if extra volumes were needed over the weekend "unless you have a balancing agreement with the pipeline, but not everyone is so lucky to have that. Especially when the demand is high, if everyone did that you would be out of whack pretty quickly. Traders would give you all the gas on Tuesday, and you may not have a home for it."

Forecast temperatures above normal were not able to prod New England buyers to make weekend purchases. Wunderground forecast that Boston's Friday high of 75 degrees would reach 80 on Saturday and ease to 78 by Monday. The normal high in Boston this time of year, however, is a more temperate 73. New York City's Friday maximum of 74 was seen jumping to 85 by Saturday and ease to 78 as well on Monday. The normal high in New York is 77. In Washington, DC, temperatures were predicted to follow a similar pattern; the high Friday of 79 was expected to reach 85 on Saturday before dipping to 78 on Monday. The seasonal high in Washington, DC, this time of year is 82.

The National Weather Service in Washington, DC, forecast an active weather period over the weekend. "[H]igh pressure will build overhead through Saturday before moving off the coast Sunday. A series of upper-level disturbances will pass through the region Sunday night through the middle portion of next week. Unsettled conditions are expected during this time."

Gas for weekend and Monday delivery to New York City on Transco Zone 6 was seen 22 cents lower at $3.13, and parcels on Tetco M-3 dropped 20 cents to $3.15.

New England took harder hits. Gas at the Algonquin Citygates shed 74 cents to $3.33, and packages on Tennessee Zone 6 200 L fell 29 cents to $3.42. Deliveries on Millennium were seen down 17 cents to $2.94.

Appalachian Gas was generally softer. Gas on Dominion South came in at $3.20, down 11 cents, and packages on Columbia Gas TCO were down a penny to $4.57.

According to industry consultant Genscape, modest shoulder season demand has created problems for pipelines. Genscape reports that several pipelines had issued imbalance warnings for the weekend. "Due to forecasted lower system demand this weekend, Tetco has limited operational flexibility to manage imbalances, and Maritimes and Northeast [pipeline] is requiring all delivery point operators to keep actual daily takes out of the system equal to or greater than scheduled quantities regardless of their cumulative imbalance position starting 9 a.m. Saturday," the firm said last week.

It added that Tennessee "is issuing an imbalance warning for Zone 0 South of Station 1, [and] Algonquin requires all delivery point operators to keep actual daily takes out of the system equal to or greater than scheduled quantities regardless of their cumulative imbalance position starting 9 a.m. Saturday also."

Analysts see increased demand from Mexico and more supportive weather as keeping a firm bid under the market. "Since bottoming out two weeks ago, it appears that prices are moving higher as tighter supply-demand balances spur buying interest," said BNP Paribas' Teri Viswanath, director of commodity strategy for natural gas. "Despite the longer-range model depiction of below-normal temperatures in the eastern half of the US for June, such a shift in the pattern still does not appear even by mid-month. Supply also appears slightly more constructive this week as increased pipeline exports to Mexico limit the surplus available for restocking. Mexico hit a new daily record of 2.436 Bcf/d this week. Should exports continue on trend, the net supply contraction would amount to roughly 0.5 Bcf/d of less supply available for inventory restocking this month," she said in a report to clients.

"All told, the slightly tighter supply balances will continue to limit weekly storage injections, adding to the growing anxiety about pre-winter stock levels."

In spite of a plump 119 Bcf storage build reported Thursday, analysts continued to maintain their bullish posture. "Markets are always forward looking, and natural gas will be attempting to accurately assess summer temperature trends and the extent of additional production increases in looking across this month," said Jim Ritterbusch of Ritterbusch and Associates.

"Given the magnitude of the current supply shortfall, we feel that any bearish surprises on either the supply or the demand front will be taken in stride and will have only limited downside impact on the market. But on the other hand, the first major sustainable hot spell or even minor production disruptions will have an outsized effect in pushing prices appreciably higher. While fresh four-week highs reinforced our expectations for a push up to the $4.85 area, we feel that a $5 print is easily attainable if several bullish forces align, such as an early start to a hot summer, an active hurricane season, etc."

Technical analysts also see renewed vigor for the bulls. "Bearish case, the ABC advance off the $4.289 low is morphing into an ABCDE pattern. Bullish case, the $4.289 low marked the start of a renewed up trend," said Brian LaRose, a technical analyst with United ICAP. "[We] Peg $4.805-4.856 as the highest levels consistent with an ABCDE rising wedge. Fail to carve out a top from this band of resistance and our trend will shift to 'up.' [We] see  room to $5.089-5.121, potentially even $5.310-5.357 in this case," he said in closing comments Thursday to clients.

The National Weather Service (NWS) in its 2 p.m. EDT Friday report said a collection of showers and thunderstorms associated with a well-defined low pressure area located about 25 miles northeast of Vera Cruz, Mexico "has diminished during the past several hours. If thunderstorms redevelop near the center, a tropical depression could still form before the low reaches the coast of eastern Mexico later this evening or tonight...Whether a tropical depression forms or not...this disturbance could produce heavy rains, along with life-threatening flash floods and mud slides, over portions of southeastern and eastern Mexico during the next few days."

NWS raised its estimate for storm formation in the next 48 hours and the next five days to 70%, up from 50% in the Friday morning report.

Joe Bastardi of WeatherBELL Analytics said in a noon Friday update that a "tropical cyclone in the southern Gulf should not be a U.S. energy concern."

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