Cash prices overall averaged a 7-cent gain in Wednesday’s trading as punishing cold refused to release its grip on Midwest and eastern energy markets. If oversized gains in New England are omitted, however, the increase falls to just above 3 cents.
Eastern and Northeast points enjoyed the lion’s share of the increases, and in the Midwest, prices eased slightly. At the close of futures trading April had eased 0.9 cent to $3.960 and May was off 1.0 cent to $3.985. April crude oil rose 90 cents to $92.96/bbl.
Marketers in the Great Lakes area have attempted to sidestep the recent surges in gas prices by deferring purchases. “We are trying to avoid it as much as possible in the hopes that it might come down,” said a Michigan marketer. “We haven’t purchased much. We did buy for Wednesday on Consumers at $4.29 and $4.32. We didn’t buy any gas for Thursday because we can move it around [between customers] and hope for a lower price. This month is not what we wanted.”
The marketer noted that current purchases would be “blended into” gas purchased at the lower monthly index, thus limiting the overall impact for the month.
“We are also hearing that there are a number of utilities [that] didn’t count on this [cold weather] happening and are having to go out and buy. March can be a tricky month, and it sure is showing its ability to be that this month. I’m hoping that because we have ended the winter on a winter note that we can have a spring and a summer.”
Forecasters don’t see any near-term let up in the bone-rattling temperatures in the Midwest and East. “The latest indications are that the weather pattern will continue to favor colder storms that bring snow, in part, from the Central states to the East into early April,” said AccuWeather.com meteorologist Alex Sosnowski.
“The pattern may translate to a longer heating season, higher heating bills and more time, money and effort into snow removal later into the season than usual in some communities,” he said. “The pattern can also negatively influence some spring weather-related activities. The long-range weather patterns from the Central states to the Appalachians and even the East Coast point toward additional storms and just enough cold air when they come calling to bring more snow and a wintry mix, despite the official arrival of spring on Wednesday.”
Temperatures were forecast to rise but remain below seasonal norms. AccuWeather.com said Milwaukee, WI’s Wednesday high of 21 would increase to 32 Thursday and 34 Friday, but the normal high for this time of year is 44. Chicago’s Wednesday high of 23 was expected to rise to 34 Thursday and 39 Friday, but that still placed it 9 degrees below its seasonal norms. Detroit’s Wednesday high of 32 was expected to increase to 34 on Thursday and 39 Friday, well below its normal high of 47.
Gas for delivery Thursday on Alliance eased 3 cents to $4.28 and gas on Northern Natural Ventura dropped 6 cents to $4.27. Quotes at the Chicago Citygates slid 2 pennies to $4.34. On Michcon gas for next-day delivery was seen at $4.21, down about 2 cents and Consumers deliveries came in at $4.26, down 3 cents. At Dawn gas for Thursday was seen at $4.31, up two pennies.
A firm tone to next-day power prices kept eastern gas trading points higher. IntercontinentalExchange reported that Thursday power into the New England Power Pool’s Massachusetts Hub rose $3.07 to $89.13/MWh, and peak power at the PJM Western Hub Thursday rose $1.83 to $57.05/MWh.
Gas for Thursday delivery at the Algonquin Citygates rose 53 cents to $11.57, and parcels on Tennessee Zone 6 200 L added $1.06 to $11.42. Upstream points eased. Thursday gas at Iroquois Waddington fell 3 cents to $6.10.
On Dominion, next-day gas gained 2 cents to $4.08, and on Tetco M-3 quotes came in at $4.49, 24 cents higher. Gas bound for New York on Transco Zone 6 added $1.00 to $5.43.
Thursday’s Energy Information Administration storage report will give analysts data to fine tune their estimates of season-ending inventories. Last year no withdrawals were made and the five-year average stands at a 26 Bcf reduction. Analysts at United-ICAP are looking for a draw of 72 Bcf, and a Dow Jones survey resulted in an average 72 Bcf withdrawal as well. Industry consultant Bentek Energy utilizing its North American flow model predicts a 71 Bcf pull.
“I’m hearing a draw of 70 Bcf, and you can watch the screen 15 seconds before the number comes out to see if it is going to be bullish or bearish,” said a New York floor trader. “Thursday’s trading saw prices rise toward the end of the day, and I don’t think there will be a lot of stop loss orders above $4. The general consensus is that the market will go there, but I think the market will play with it a little bit. If we settle over $4, that will give some momentum for new buyers to come in.
“The storage number will play a big part in whether we get above $4. We are so close that traders are just itching to get it over $4. Anything above the 70 Bcf mark, you will see this market take off,” he said.
The longer term weather picture moderated somewhat. MDA Weather Services in its 11- to 15-day outlook shows below normal temperatures confined to a ridge centered over Nebraska and the Northern Plains with the remainder of the country at normal readings. “The forecast has been adjusted slightly to the warmer side in parts of the South and East, though the persistence of the -NAO [North Atlantic Oscillation] still limits the potential for an abrupt, widespread warm up within this time frame. This warm-up includes a few days of aboves in the South and normal in the East.”
The forecaster added that “the increasing AO [Arctic Oscillation] trends suggest it will be difficult for this period to include as much cold as the prior 10 days, setting the stage for a less anomalous period overall. Along with the increasingly less stable pattern comes more variability within the models and a slight decline in the overall confidence.”
Market technicians versed in Elliott Wave and Retracement have been caught a little off guard by the market’s recent strength. “While last weeks trend was ‘up,’ my most bullish case was a reversal lower from the $3.800 level. Instead natgas retested the prior high at $3.933 from November 2012,” said United-ICAP’s Walter Zimmermann in a weekly analysis for clients.
“On a decisive break above $3.933 from here my minimum target is the $4.305 level with $5.080 the next step up from there. Bears need to break the up trend support line from the $1.902 low [April 2012] and such a move appears well out of range for this week.”
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