US GAS: Futures End Up On Bargain Buying As Other Energy Falls

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Natural gas futures settled slightly positive Tuesday as the rest of the energy market traded lower, lending support to the view that natural gas prices can't fall much farther below current levels before bargain-buyers swoop in.

Natural gas for June delivery on the New York Mercantile Exchange settled up 1.3 cents at $4.013 per million British thermal units, after opening floor trading 0.9 cents higher at $4.009/MMBtu.

Gas prices have been trading in a range within roughly 25 cents of $4/MMBtu over the last six weeks after dropping sharply from a high above $6/MMBtu over the winter, as mild weather and ample supplies have been putting downward pressure on prices.

Still, natural gas showed resilience at that level even as the rest of the energy market was hit by a falling stock market and a currency market rattled by fears over Greece's debt levels. Light, sweet crude for June delivery dropped $3.45 to $82.74 a barrel Tuesday, while gasoline and distillate futures fell 4.6% and 3.7%, respectively.

"There is some speculation that there might be a short-term bottom here," said Rich Ilczyszyn a natural gas analyst with the Lind-Waldock brokerage firm in Chicago, referring to price level below $4 per MMBtu at which buyers have stepped in. "I think you have bottom-feeders stepping in...it's a relatively low risk trade because prices are so low," he said.

Weather forecasts were mixed and didn't have a strong effect on gas trading; warmer than expected weather on the east coast is expected to give way to a cooler weather moving from the northwest over the next week.

Natural gas storage remains robust, with storage levels for the week ended April 23 at 1.912 trillion cubic feet, 5.6% higher than last year and 18.8% above the five year average. The Department of Energy is scheduled to release its next report on natural gas supplies Thursday morning.

"Natural gas prices seem to be finding a bottom," said Bill Costello of Bull Run Energy Research in Boston. Costello said a combination of low prices reducing drilling activity and increased industrial demand would help set a more permanent floor for prices. On Monday, the U.S. reported signs of increased industrial demand in improving manufacturing and construction activity.


FUTURES                                        SETTLEMENT                              NET CHANGE
Nymex Jun                                               $4.013                                               +1.3c
Nymex Jul                                                $4.133                                               +0.4c
Nymex Aug                                              $4.237                                               +0.4c

CASH HUB                                          RANGE                                     PREVIOUS DAY
Henry Hub                                          $3.93-$4.02                                       $3.80-$4.00
Transco 65                                         $3.99-$4.08                                        $3.84-$4.00
Tex East M3                                      $4.30-$4.45                                         $4.19-$4.40
Transco Z6                                        $4.40-$4.49                                         $4.20-$4.45
SoCal                                                 $3.83-$3.96                                         $3.73-$3.87
El Paso Perm                                      $3.72-$3.82                                        $3.57-$3.70
El Paso SJ                                          $3.64-$3.74                                         $3.50-$3.60
Waha                                                 $3.80-$3.93                                         $3.68-$3.85
Katy                                                  $3.88-$3.99                                          $3.74-$3.89


-By Edward Welsch, Dow Jones Newswires; 613-237-0669; edward.welsch@dowjones.com


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