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Northeast Maintenance Prompts Strong Advance; Futures Hit New Low

Spot gas for Tuesday delivery gained ground in Monday's trading as a major pipeline reported significant maintenance outages resulting in major volume reductions to Northeast markets. Next-day gas in New England surged as much as $1, and Mid-Atlantic locations were not far behind.

Prices in producing zones were up a few pennies. Overall, the market gained 22 cents to average $4.05. Futures trading was far more subdued, although the August contract did post a new six-month low. At the close, August was up 0.1 cent at $4.147 and September had added 0.4 cent to $4.140. August crude oil gained 8 cents to $100.91/bbl.

Prices surged in New England as Tennessee Gas Pipeline reported major maintenance expected to last through the end of the week. At Station 245 in east central New York, volumes are typically 1,030 MMcf/d but for the rest of the week flows are forecast to be down by a whopping 345 MMcf/d. At Station 254 close to the New York Massachusetts border, normal flows are 1,207 MMcf/d, but for the remainder of the week maintenance is expected to lower that figure by 422 MMcf/d.

Prices responded accordingly. Next-day gas at the Algonquin Citygates jumped $1.16 to $3.75, and deliveries on Iroquois Waddington rose by 25 cents to $4.24. On Tennessee Zone 6 200 L Tuesday gas surged 93 cents to $3.75.

IntercontinentalExchange reported that next-day peak power at the New England ISO's Massachusetts Hub rose $4.05 to $52.05/MWh, but at the PJM West Hub next-day peak power tumbled $13.29 to $42.98/MWh.

Tennessee may have picked an optimal time to conduct maintenance as near-term weather forecasts call for seasonal New England temperatures. AccuWeather.com forecast that Monday's high in Boston of 85 was expected to recede to 83 on Tuesday and drop to 77 on Wednesday. The normal high in Boston this time of year is 82. Hartford, CT's Monday high of 79 was predicted to reach 83 Tuesday before falling to 76 on Wednesday. The seasonal high in Hartford is 85. Providence, RI's Monday high of 84 was seen easing to 82 Tuesday and then dropping to 76 Wednesday. The normal mid-July high in Providence is 83.

In fact, over the next few days the main weather events in New England are likely to be severe rains and thunderstorms. "Boston will be at risk for storms bringing flash and urban flooding, as well as locally gusty thunderstorms through Tuesday," said AccuWeather.com meteorologist Alex Sosnowski. "Downpours and storms can be intense enough to delay travel with the worst of the storms during the afternoon and early nighttime hours. Motorists should be prepared for blinding downpours and flooded roadways, [and] as the strongest storms sweep through the metro area, a ground stop could occur at the airport.

"The risk of flooding downpours and thunderstorms will shift eastward on Wednesday, but not fast enough to clear New England. The storms are begin driven by a dramatic change to cooler weather over the Midwest. While the core of the cool air will hold up in the Appalachians and the Midwest this time, the air will turn much less humid during the second half of the week and will allow rather low nighttime temperatures for the middle of July in the western suburbs."

Other eastern points were firm as well. Deliveries to Transco Zone 6 in New York City added $1.18 to $3.41, and Tetco M-3 added $1.02 to $3.24.

Producing zones added a few pennies. Gas on Transco Zone 3 for Tuesday delivery rose 4 cents to $4.11, and parcels at the Henry Hub gained a penny to $4.10. Gas on Tennessee 500 L added 4 cents to $4.10, and gas on ANR SE tacked on 2 cents to $4.05. Gas on Tetco E LA changed hands 3 cents higher at $4.07.

Futures traders were looking past a near-term cooling to temperature forecasts expected to be more seasonal. The more normal temperature patterns were thought to be a hindrance to further significant price erosion.

Power generation requirements for the near term are likely to take a big hit this week and impact storage for next week. Forecaster Commodity Weather Group sees a large ridge of below-normal temperatures extending from New York to New Mexico, and North Dakota to Georgia. Following that, however, temperatures are still expected to be moderate.

"After this week's impressive cool push into the Midcontinent, we track a same-to-slower moderation in temperatures for the Midwest, East and South for the six-10 day range. Temperatures find their way back to above-normal levels for the Midwest by days nine-10 (Tuesday-Wednesday next week), while reaching the East Coast toward the middle of next week," said President Matt Rodgers in the firm's Monday morning forecast.

"The warming is expected to be transient again as another cool push seems to be getting stronger on the more recent guidance for the eastern third of the U.S. for mid to late 11-15 day as the main heat ridge retracts to the western states (especially interior). Other sources for national demand loss today include cooler-than-expected short-range conditions for the West Coast states, slightly reduced heat potential for Texas before the cool front, and storm-induced weakness on the East Coast ahead of this week's cool front."

Mike DeVooght of DEVO Capital, a Colorado-based trading and risk management firm, advises trading accounts and end-users to stand aside the futures markets for now. Producers and those with exposure to lower prices are advised to hold short the balance of a short summer strip initiated earlier at $4.20 to $4.30. He also recommends to stay short a second summer strip initiated at $4.50. The summer strip settled Friday at $4.142.

"Gas has been under pressure the past couple weeks, primarily because of higher than anticipated storage injections and the lack of any significant cooling demand," DeVooght said. "Many that have become bullish on gas prices have done so because they anticipate ending the summer at historically low storage levels. That may very well be the case if we don't have a cool summer, but if we do, we will start to see the deficit continue to tighten, which will take wind out of the short-term bull sails.

"To have a substantial bull market, we feel we need to see an uptick in demand to offset the steady production increase we are experiencing in the U.S. We could see short-term weather-related spikes, but we still feel selling rallies above $4.50 for producers is an attractive forward selling level," DeVooght said.

Analysts see the market as all about short-term weather. "For the time being, prices are being chiefly guided by the near-term weather forecasts as well as supply fundamentals," said WeatherBELL Analytics analyst Alan Lammey in a Monday morning note to clients. "At this juncture, it's not out of the question that sellers may attempt to test of the major $4 psychological support level in the short term, particularly if spot prices across a large area of the nation press lower as a result of the lackluster summer demand.

"If the gas complex was astonished at the notable selling action in the natural gas futures and spot market last week, they may be more surprised this week as unusually cool temperatures encompass a large area of the U.S. focused in the center of the country and extending to parts of the East/Northeast. A majority of this price weakness is happening at a time when summer demand would traditionally be creating a lift to natural gas consumption via heightened air conditioning loads. The brew of plentiful gas production being produced in the Marcellus area is colliding with the considerably lower weather demand this week, thus injecting some downside action in natural gas prices."

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