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Next-Day Gas Meanders Lower, While Futures Rise Ahead Of Storage Report

Physical natural gas for Thursday delivery continued on its downward glide path Wednesday as any kind of supportive weather patterns failed to emerge, with cooling requirements nationally over the next two weeks expected to be below last year and below normal overall.

Northeast points took losses of more than 50 cents in some instances, but the Mid-Atlantic, Marcellus, and Appalachia all were able to muster double-digit declines of their own.

Producing regions eased about a nickel. The overall market retreated about 6 cents. At the close of futures trading, August managed a gain of 2.2 cents to $4.119, and September skidded 2.2 cents as well to $4.116. August crude oil rose $1.24 to $101.20/bbl.

Next-day gas all along the East Coast tumbled as record lows were seen in the central part of the country, but low temperatures were expected to extend south and east as well. AccuWeather.com meteorologists said, "a summertime version of the polar vortex will continue to set record low temperatures in the Plains and Midwest this week. Cool air will also reach into the South and Appalachians. The air will feel refreshing to some people but downright chilly and autumnlike to others."

"Many residents and visitors will be toting jackets and long sleeves," said AccuWeather.com meteorologist Steve Travis. "Rather than days of hazy sunshine and high humidity, typical of mid-July, many areas will experience a deep blue sky, at times, low humidity and a cool breeze."

Temperatures at major metropolitan areas along the Eastern Seaboard were forecast to not even make it to seasonal averages. AccuWeather.com predicted the high in Boston Wednesday of 76 would rise to 81 Thursday and Friday. The seasonal high is 82. New York City's 79 high Wednesday was predicted to rise to 81 Thursday and 82 Friday, close to the normal of 84. Washington, DC's Wednesday maximum of 81 was expected to reach 85 Thursday and 86 Friday, well below the normal of 89.

New York and New England were forecast to see diminishing power requirements. The New England ISO forecast that Wednesday's peak load of 19,820 MW would decline to 18,360 MW Thursday and 17,850 MW Friday. The New York ISO predicted Wednesday's peak load of 24,128 MW would ease to 23,529 MW Thursday and 23,516 MW Friday.

Thursday deliveries to the Algonquin Citygates fell 58 cents to $3.00, and gas into Iroquois Waddington shed 7 cents to $4.20. Packages destined for New York City on Transco Zone 6 fell 34 cents to $2.71, and gas on Tetco M-3 skidded 24 cents to $2.70.

Gas on Dominion South for Thursday shed 26 cents to $2.52, and packages on Millenium were seen 31 cents lower at $2.63. Deliveries to Transco Leidy came in 25 cents lower to $2.51, and gas on Tennessee Zone 4 Marcellus changed hands at $2.43, down 24 cents.

“We bought earlier in the month, but today we bought gas on Michcon at $4.315,” said a Michigan trader.

Gas on Consumers was quoted at $4.28, down 1 cent, and parcels on Michcon were seen at $4.30, down a penny also.

Declines in the producing regions were not as abrupt. Gas for Thursday on CIG eased 4 cents to $3.97, and at the Cheyenne Hub, next-day gas came in at $4.03, down 3 cents. At Opal, Thursday deliveries were off 6 cents to $4.04, and on Northwest Pipeline Wyoming gas fell 6 cents to $4.00. In the San Juan Basin, next-day gas on Transwestern shed 3 cents to $4.07.

If analysts estimates are correct, Thursday's storage report by the Energy Information Administration should show a plump reduction in both the year-on-year and year-on-five-year deficits. Last year 62 Bcf was injected, and the five-year pace stands at 65 Bcf.

IAF Advisors in Houston is calculating a 103 Bcf build, and United ICAP analysts are looking for an increase of 100 Bcf. A Reuters poll of 26 traders and analysts showed an average expectation of 98 Bcf, with a range of 86 Bcf to 107 Bcf.

Analysts see natural gas prices as ultimately supported by economic incentives if not weather. "While there is growing model agreement that a brief spike of heat will occur in the Midwest and Northeast next week (with a warm-up hitting the Midwest on Tuesday and the eastern Interstate 95 corridor by Thursday), there is also agreement that temperatures in the eastern half of the nation will then cool-off thereafter," said BNP Paribas’ Teri Viswanath, director of commodity strategy for natural gas.   

"With roughly a month left of the 'peak' cooling season, we anticipate that opportunities for an extended rally will now be limited as the market focuses on heavier than anticipated weekly [storage] injections. Thereafter, we are growing increasingly constructive as the regional fuel-switching story becomes more compelling."

If Viswanath's analysis is correct, storage builds may taper.

"Marcellus supply growth, coupled with known transportation constraints, is responsible for increasing price weakness in the Appalachian region this summer," she said in a note. "The common range for Dominion, South Point prices bottomed out last Friday, with physical trades ranging from $1.98 to $2.25/MMBtu. The absence of new takeaway pipeline projects for the balance of the injection season should result in increasingly favorable economics for coal-to-gas fuel-switching.

“Indeed, the only means for balancing this region, as the summer heat begins to fade, is to incentivise an increase in electric power demand. This development, in our opinion, should enable a slightly lighter restocking effort in the second half of the injection season."

WeatherBell Analytics meteorologist Joe Bastardi expects to see fluctuating weather patterns with no clear trends.

"Confidence is high this morning that the ebb and flow continues,” he said Wednesday in the 20-day forecast. “The biggest problem will be the trough coming through the southern Plains on the tail of the major cold outbreak as it may get 'stuck' over the Southeast in the six-10 day, leading to cool, wet weather from East Texas to the East Coast (south of the Mason-Dixon line), while warmth surges back across the North. The warmth will get beaten back and reversed in the 11-20 day period."

Bottom line, look for the next 15 days to be cool. WeatherBELL predicts a national accumulation of 154.5 cooling degree days (CDD), well behind last year's 172.2 and a 30-year average of 175.5 CDD.

Analysts following Elliott Wave and retracement analysis see a number of calculations pointing to a seasonal cycle low. "$3.937 represents 1.618 of 'a'='c' off the $4.891 August high, [and] $3.656-3.487 represents 0.618 of [the] $1.902 to $6.493 [major advance]. [We] see these objectives as our primary candidates for a seasonal cycle low," said United ICAP’s Brian LaRose. "To suggest an earlier than usual low has the potential to develop, bulls need to push natgas back above $4.287," he said late Tuesday.

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