After trading nearly a dime higher for most of the sessionMonday, the futures market collapsed during the last 20 minutes oftrading amid a flurry of selling that was set in motion bysell-stops and wide cash-futures basis. By the time the dust hadsettled, December’s $2.442 close was 11.1 cents off Friday’s leveland nearly 20 cents from session highs. Estimated volume was arobust 76,481.
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ARCO’s announcement last week that it will cut $500 million inexpenses and 900 jobs over the next two years was put inperspective yesterday when the company said third quarter earningsexcluding special items plummeted 81% to $61 million, or$0.19/share, compared to $313 million, or $0.96/share, in the thirdquarter of last year. Net income, including special items anddiscontinued operations, was $872 million, or $2.67 per dilutedshare, compared to $516 million, or $1.57/share in 3Q97.
The Canadian natural-gas community sees potentially sharp priceincreases developing on its horizon, thanks to a happy coincidenceof pipeline expansions and economic conditions on the supply side.As the Alliance Pipeline accepted its final certificate for itsU.S. leg from the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, risingprices were being predicted by prominent fixtures ranging fromPeters & Co., an investment boutique specializing in energystocks, to the dean of Canadian geological and engineeringconsulting houses, Sproule Associates.
If pipelines want the freedom to negotiate competitive deals,they must first get rid of the “most notorious symbol of marketpower” – the straight-fixed variable rate design (SFV) – and offervolumetric rates, Dynegy Marketing and Trade told FERC last week.
A double-digit drop Tuesday on the futures screen had nearly allsources anticipating softer cash prices Wednesday. They were right,at least in Eastern markets where most points fell by amounts oneither side of a nickel. But markets in the West were surprisinglyfirm. With the exception of Permian Basin and Waha gas in theSouthwest, which joined the East in fallbacks of about a nickel,the West was essentially flat to a few cents higher.
Last week’s trading wound up wound up with a reversal ofregional price trends. Whereas in the first couple of days of theweek Western points were recording gains while the stagnant Easternmarket was mostly flat to a little lower, the West was falling hardFriday but the East was flat to 2-3 cents higher. The Easternfirmness came as a surprise to some traders who had expected mildweather and the usual slump in weekend load to yield modest pricedeclines.
Other than the screen-related drop in prices Wednesday, it’sbeen a pretty slow and uneventful bidweek, a number of GPI sourcesagreed. Things had settled down Thursday and June gas was tradingin about the same area as it had following the futures expiryWednesday, a Midwest-based marketer noted. However, another sourcesaid Southwest and Southern California border prices continued tosoften a bit further Thursday.
The June Nymex contract caused quite a bit of excitement onFriday, as the spot month teased both the bears and the bulls. Juneraised the eyebrows of bearish traders when the contractmomentarily reached a low of $1.99, but strong short coveringkicked in at that point, enough to drive the spot month to itsfinal settlement price of $2.094.
Cash price changes for the weekend varied widely, ranging fromrelative flatness in Appalachia and Northeast citygates to drops of10-20 cents at the California border. The big weakness inCalifornia numbers was due to trader fears of weekend OperationalFlow Orders by SoCal Gas and PG&E, whether or not they evermaterialized, sources said. (Neither utility had an OFO in effectas of Saturday.) However, SoCal was cutting all as-availablestorage injections, helping to keep Topock prices depressed, amarketer said.
Cash prices continued to drop going into the weekend asexpected. Moderating weather and the usual lower weekend loads werethe obvious reasons for softening, sources said. Despite theoverall downward trend, falls were only 1-3 cents on several pipesin the Gulf Coast and Midcontinent. Again, the points that hadrisen most rapidly earlier in the week-such as Northeast citygates,Northern Natural-demarc and Waha-were the ones seeing the steepestdeclines.