While the April futures contract exited quietly on Monday, the May contract began its prompt-month run Tuesday like a rock band, jumping 26.4 cents on the day to close at $5.746. After notching a high of $5.775 at 12:37 p.m. ET, the May contract stayed above $5.70, moving up to test the $5.77 mark a number of other times during the afternoon.
With a lack of major new weather or storage news, market-watchers seemed to single out natural gas’ symbiotic relationship with big brother crude as reason for the strong move upward. Nymex’s crude oil contract for May rose 80 cents Tuesday to close at $36.25/bbl, sparked by indications from OPEC ministers that they will likely cut supply quotas by one million-barrels-per-day starting as early as April 1. The OPEC ministers’ meeting is scheduled for Wednesday in Vienna, Austria.
“The liquids — which have been selling off since OPEC indicated that they probably wouldn’t be able to get their act together in order to perform the cut — have now sort of backtracked,” a Washington, DC-based broker said. “As a result, gasoline was up 4 cents, heating oil was up 2.5 cents and crude was up nearly a buck. That sort of gave the first spurt to natural gas.”
Now that May has entered the $5.70s range, the broker said that the next top to look at is probably $5.83, which is where the May contract peaked on March 17.
He noted that the market hasn’t had a big 30-cent day when there wasn’t a weather story or a storage number out in some time. “People have been focusing so much on the oil side and just assuming that natural gas would react in a muted, tandem response,” the broker said. “But today, [gas] was stronger than anything out there.
“When you look at the charts, it is clearly an upward bias. Does this mean that the little selling-off period we have had for two weeks is done? I don’t know, I’d like to see confirmation of it and see how we react to the storage number on Thursday.”
Commenting on the day’s move, Tim Evans of IFR Energy Services jokingly wondered if there had been some sort of mix-up. “Natural gas futures have jumped back to the upside in sympathy with the surge in petroleum prices, almost as if traders were confused about the difference between natural gas and unleaded gasoline,” he said. Comparing the sympathetic gain to those experienced in early March, Evans said he sees “this rally as subject to eventual contradiction when its own fundamentals prove at odds with the higher value or when the rally in crude proves unsustainable or, most likely, both.”
Evans noted that May futures have leapt through both the recent $5.50-5.51 highs and the $5.654 high of March 24 to come within reach of the March 17 peak. He added that new highs beyond that level would challenge failed spot support in the $5.90-6.00 zone.
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