* More winter weather expected for large parts of United
* Storage seen down by 200-plus Bcf for fourth straight week
(Recasts lead, adds comment, cash gas and power prices)
By Jeanine Prezioso
NEW YORK, Feb 19 U.S. natural gas futures
sprinted past $6 on Wednesday to their highest price in more
than five years, ending up nearly 11 percent on forecasts that
more late winter cold weather across the United States will
increase heating demand and deplete increasingly thin supplies.
Futures jumped ahead of Thursday's government inventory
report that is expected to show a record fourth straight weekly
drop in excess of 200 billion cubic feet of gas.
"We've pushed beyond ($6) today in this very, very large
move up," said BNP Paribas analyst Teri Viswanath. "This is
"These shortage concerns are causing a realignment of the
March contract with spot-market reality," Viswanath said. "It
just shows how tight the supply situation currently is."
Natural gas futures for March delivery settled up
59.8 cents at $6.149 per million British thermal units, after
jumping as much as 72.4 cents, or 13 percent, to $6.275 per
MmBtu, the highest since December 2008.
As prices rose early in the day, traders bought futures
contracts to cover short positions and speculative money poured
into the market, further advancing the rally, brokers and
"This test of $6.00 stinks of speculative involvement,"
Aaron Calder, senior market analyst with Gelber & Associates in
Houston, said in a client note. "Managed money is taking
advantage of the imbalance and pouring into the long side of the
Weather forecasters expect frigid temperatures to continue
after record-cold weather in January led to steep draws of
natural gas to meet heating demand, leaving less gas to meet
summer electric power demand.
The 11- to 15-day forecast points to "ongoing colder than
normal conditions" over much of North America, said
meteorologists at MDA Weather Services in Gaithersburg,
Temperatures in Chicago will reach sub-zero
(Fahrenheit/below minus 18 degrees Celsius) at the end of next
week while New York temperatures will reach into the teens,
according to the MDA forecast.
The March contract on the New York Mercantile Exchange
settled at $1.20 over April, widening the spread between the two
from 80 cents a day earlier.
"The rally is confined to March, but as time goes by the
seriously depleted storage level is going to catch on," said
Gene McGillian, analyst with Tradition Energy in Stamford,
Connecticut. "The back of the board has some catching up to do."
Storage levels are expected to drop to a low of 890 billion
cubic feet (bcf) at the end of March, and "we do not see a full
recovery over the summer," said Thomson Reuters natural gas
analyst Jan Schulte.
Analysts polled by Reuters expect the U.S. Energy
Information Administration (EIA) to report a drawdown of 251 Bcf
with a range of 212 Bcf to 270 Bcf.
The relative strength index, or RSI-14, of natural gas
futures hit 70 on Wednesday, indicating that it may be
RSI is a technical indicator closely watched by traders.
Technical analysts generally regard a level of 30 as a sign that
a commodity has been oversold and is ready for a rise, while a
RSI of 70 indicates prices may be too high and set to fall. At
the end of January, RSI twice rose above 70.
In the cash market, gas at the Henry Hub GT-HH-IDX, the
benchmark supply point in Louisiana, rose 22 cents to $5.96 per
MmBtu on average, a 19-cent discount to NYMEX.
Gas prices for Thursday delivery on the Transco Zone 6
pipeline E-TSCO6NY-IDX in New York traded 10 cents higher at
$6.15 per MmBtu on average on the IntercontinentalExchange.
Cash prices for gas were generally higher across the
country, particularly in the West. For daily ICE U.S. cash gas
prices click on <0#GAS-IDX=ICE>.
Power prices were steady to lower as demand weakened due to
PJM West power E-PJWHRTP-IX in the Mid-Atlantic fell
nearly $3 to an average of $46 per megawatt-hour on ICE.
However, New England power E-NEPLMHP-IDX rose $4 to $125
Power prices in the West and Texas were little-changed from
the previous day. For daily ICE U.S. cash gas prices click on
Nuclear plant outages, which create demand for natural gas
as a substitute fuel, were at 9,655 megawatts, up from 9,570 MW
on Tuesday. That compares with 16,100 MW a year ago and a
five-year average outage rate of 10,300 MW.
(Additional reporting by Eileen O'Grady in Houston; Editing by
Marguerita Choy, Bernadette Baum and Paul Simao)