The cash market Wednesday staged a broad rally of 15 cents with only a half-dozen points falling into the loss column as Old Man Winter refused to let go even with the first day of spring only a week away.
Prices were heavily influenced by multi-dollar jumps at Northeast points, and if Iroquois, Algonquin and portions of Tennessee are factored out, the gains shift to a more nominal 5-cent gain. Futures continued their relentless trek higher and made another three-month high. April added 3.5 cents to $3.680, and May gained 3.4 cents to $3.718. April crude oil slipped 2 cents to $92.52/bbl.
Widespread snow and cold is expected over Midwest and Northeast energy markets. “Just as portions of the Midwest will deal with rounds of snow and rain into the weekend, so will areas in the East. Depending on the time of day they hit, there could be slippery travel,” said AccuWeather.com meteorologist Alex Sosnowski. He said flurries and snow squalls rumbled through part of the Appalachians during Wednesday, [and] “as many as three fast-moving storm systems will swing through the region Friday through the end of the weekend. The storms will bring a taste of spring to some areas, but also a remainder that winter is not quite done yet in others.
“Areas near and just north of the storm track will have snow or a wintry mix with surprisingly low daytime temperatures for the middle of March. Areas to the south of the storm track will have rain or spotty showers. The first round will be the weakest of all and may be a non-event by the time it crosses the Appalachians. However, a few places in West Virginia, western Virginia, eastern Tennessee and northwestern North Carolina late Thursday night into Friday morning have the best chance of a small, slushy accumulation of snow or a rain/snow mix.
“The second round will be farther north and will have more substantial precipitation than the first. This system would affect the eastern Great Lakes and central Appalachians region Friday night and then New England and part of the mid-Atlantic coast Saturday. Snow accumulation is possible north of I-80, with the exception around New York City where it will be too warm for accumulating snow.”
In the meantime, temperatures Thursday throughout the East and Northeast are expected to be well below normal. AccuWeather.com forecast that the high Wednesday in Boston of 51 would drop to 40 by Thursday, 4 degrees below its seasonal norm. New York City was expected to have 50 degree temperatures Wednesday before highs reached only 37 on Thursday. The normal high in New York at this time of year is 48. In Philadelphia the high of 51 predicted for Wednesday was anticipated to slide to 41 Thursday, 10 degrees below normal.
Gas for delivery Thursday to the Algonquin Citygates surged $2.89 to $8.69, and deliveries on Tennessee Zone 6 200 L vaulted about $2.93 to $8.77. On Iroquois Waddington next-day packages added 50 cents to $5.72.
Farther south and west, deliveries on Dominion added 4 cents to $3.82, and gas was seen at Tetco M-3 6 cents higher at $4.03. Gas bound for New York City on Transco Zone 6 rose 17 cents to $4.17.
Midcontinent points were mixed. Quotes for Thursday delivery on NGPL Midcontinent Pool were up a cent at $3.61, and deliveries on ANR SW rose about 3 cents to $3.64. On NGPL TX OK gas was seen up a cent at $3.67. On Oklahoma Gas Transmission Wednesday gas came in at $3.57, 2 cents lower, and gas delivered to Panhandle Eastern was 3 cents lower at $3.58.
Recent cold weather has analysts looking for a withdrawal from natural gas inventories well above historical averages. At 10:30 a.m. EDT Thursday the Energy Information Administration will release the only real-time supply demand information. A year ago amidst a mild March 66 Bcf were withdrawn, and the five-year average stands at 74 Bcf but estimates for this week’s report are sharply higher. United-ICAP calculates a pull of 143 Bcf, and a Reuters poll of industry observers showed an average 134 Bcf with a range of 115 to 147 Bcf. Bentek Energy is looking for a 139 Bcf withdrawal calculated by its North American flow model.
Going forward, one camp sees the market encountering some stiff headwinds as slack shoulder season demand approaches. “Strong end-of-season weather factors, the above-average storage withdrawals of the past couple weeks, and the more than 15% of off-line nuclear power plant capacity have provided a boost to the market through the past couple weeks,” said Addison Armstrong of Tradition Energy in a Wednesday morning report. “But with the fast-approaching start of shoulder season and more than ample supplies of gas still left in storage, further advances are likely to encounter growing resistance.”
Recent market vitality has traders cautioning against premature sales. “We are cautioning against entry into the short side at the present time,” said Jim Ritterbusch of Ritterbusch and Associates in a morning note to clients. “Updates to the temperature views are still not indicating any above-normal trends within key consuming regions. As long as temperature factor continues to skew toward cool patterns, further adjustments will be required to this month’s storage drain.
“A supply trough at around the 1.9 Tcf level is beginning to look more likely than a bottom at around 2 Tcf. While the market is likely to shift into a holding pattern [Wednesday], we look for volatility to be amped up tomorrow in conjunction with another storage report release. Our expectation for a 128 Bcf withdrawal compares with last year’s 66 Bcf decline and the five-year average drop of about 74 Bcf. As long as the shortfall against last year continues to expand, the possibility of a sustainable price decline of more than 5-7% will be significantly reduced,” he said.
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