What was widely considered a bearish storage report combinedwith falling Nymex futures prices to deal the cash market a losinghand Thursday as most delivery points lost about eight cents onaverage.
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Puzzling out what lies where in the Gulf of Mexico will beeasier with the availability of digital coordinate data for all ofthe Gulf’s gas and oil pipelines. The U.S. Department of theInterior’s Minerals Management Service (MMS) has introduced anautomated pipeline mapping system that covers 20,000 miles ofpipelines in federal waters.
The June Nymex contract showed what hefty storage activity cando to the market by falling 7.7 cents to settle Thursday at $2.221The only good news for bulls is that the contract managed torebound after briefly falling below major support at the $2.160level. “The market has been wounded. People ignored the storagenumbers for too long, but they can’t ignore them anymore. The 345Bcf surplus is the largest we’ve had this year, and we’ve had fourstraight weeks where we’ve added to that surplus,” an analyst toldGPI.
The May Nymex contract rallied 5.7 cents to settle Monday at$2.409, thanks to what sources said was good peak demand buying inthe physical market. “There was definitely some peak airconditioning demand in Texas today, and that’s exactly where youwant to see it to influence natural gas prices,” one of the sourcessaid. Buoyed by that strength, May had no problem rising from itsopening trade of $2.345, which also turned out to be its low pricefor the day.
What if they had a customer choice pilot and nobody showed up?So far, about 18 marketers have expressed interest in ConsumersEnergy’s statewide Gas Customer Choice pilot in Michigan. However,only one has said it might solicit residential customers, accordingto Consumers, and at least one other, mc2, is balking at thepilot’s requirements. Consumers certainly doesn’t expect awash-out, but whether many customers actually get a choice isextremely doubtful. Beginning April 1, up to 100,000 Consumerscustomers are to be able to choose their supplier during the firstyear of the program. Customers and suppliers may enter the programat any time during the year. The pilot is to run three years,offering choice to 100,000 per year.
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.
The April Nymex contract gained 3.7 cents to settle Friday at$2.321, thanks to what one broker called strong fund buying.However, April may be hard pressed to add much more to that.According to the latest Commitments of Traders report,non-commercials extended their net long position by 7,649 contractsto 9,543 during the last two weeks. The broker estimates that 60%of those positions are in April, which would mean these speculatorswould have to wind out of approximately 5,700 April contractswithin the next four weeks. However, if April breaks out of itsrecent technical trading range within the next several days, it islikely funds will add to their overall long position, meaning moreselling pressure would mount on April and May as we approach theApril expiration, a source argued.
Surprise, even shock, are common reactions to what occurs on the New York Mercantile Exchange on expiration day of a spot month gas futures contract, but yesterday many natural gas traders must have come close to suicidal trauma. Not because of price volatility, however. At about 1:50 p.m. EST, someone at the Teleport Communications Group, the telephone carrier that serves the trading floors of the New York Mercantile Exchange, pulled the plug. All commodity trading, including of course gas futures, screeched to a halt, creating a hair-raising state of panic.