Shoulder season weather is in full effect for most of the country as physical natural gas values Friday for weekend and Monday delivery slumped everywhere except for the Northeast, where gains were recorded as much of the region was expected to see one last shot of winter cold over the weekend.
NGI's National Spot Gas Average came in at $1.74 on Friday, just a penny lower than the previous day. Meanwhile, front-month natural gas futures, which inexplicably declined following a somewhat bullish storage draw report on Thursday, remained gun-shy of testing the psychological $2 price point. May natural gas on Friday traded between $1.925 to $1.992 before closing the regular session at $1.956, down three-tenths of a penny.
"We gapped higher following the April expiration on Tuesday, but it looks like we filled that gap Friday, which would bring us to $1.910," said Elaine Levin, vice president of Powerhouse LLC, a Washington, DC-based risk management firm. "I've seen a number of stories this week about exports to the rescue and increased demand, which means we could be seeing a low for natural gas prices. I have to tell you though, until we talk summer weather, I think this market is going to have some problems. It is balanced, at best, for the bulls."
One of those bullish reports this week came from BofA Merrill Lynch Global Research, which said the warmest winter on record in the United States collapsed natural gas prices to the lowest levels since 1999, but by July prices could begin to rise, if "normal" weather prevails and production continues to slide (seerelated story).
In the physical arena, the Northeast made the largest splash on Friday with individual point gains from a little more than a dime to nearly $1.50. AccuWeather.com meteorologist Renee Duff said Friday that a fresh shot of arctic air will usher spring snow into parts of the Great Lakes and Northeast during the first weekend of April. "An Alberta Clipper system diving down from Canada will deliver a round of snow and sharply colder conditions to the northeastern United States," she said.
"Behind this system, people will be double-checking the calendar as it will feel more like February in places such as New York City, Syracuse and Buffalo, NY; Boston; Burlington, VT; and Portland, ME," Duff said, adding that "temperatures will fail to leave the 30s F in many northeastern cities on Sunday. Arctic winds, cloud cover, low humidity and other factors will contribute to AccuWeather RealFeel Temperatures in the teens and single digits."
In preparation for the weekend cold, the ever-volatile Algonquin Citygate saw the largest gain, rising $1.39 to average $2.74, while Tennessee Zone 6 200 Line added $1.44 to $2.94. Most other gains in the Northeast were of the 15- to 40-cent variety.
The rest of the country was a sea of red Friday, with individual points in Louisiana and the Midwest declining on average by a nickel, while Midcontinent, Texas, Rocky Mountain and California locations saw mostly 10 to 15 cent discounts from Thursday's trade.
A day later, much was still being made of the natural gas storage report for the week ending March 25, which saw injections flop back to withdrawals for a week with a 25 Bcf takeaway.
"A solid withdrawal despite slightly warmer weather, but the market remains structurally undersupplied ($2/MMBtu)," according to analysts with Tudor, Pickering, Holt & Co. (TPH). "On a weather-adjusted basis, we see a market that continues to run 3 Bcf/d undersupplied. With 840 Bcf of current storage overhang, an ongoing 3 Bcf/d undersupply is what the market needs to clear an early November storage capacity cap. As we continue to point out, sub-$2/MMBtu prices should be sufficient to maintain power generation demand to levels to clean-up current storage overhang given normal weather for the balance of 2016."
However, the TPH analysts said the question remains of once "the storage overhang is well on its way towards being cleaned-up, how hard do prices need to correct upward to balance a market that is undersupplied today? Given our expectations of rising demand and declining supply through 2017, we think the move will be significant."