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Midwest, Great Lakes NatGas Points Gain As Cold Settles In; Futures Volatile But Steady

Physical gas prices for Wednesday delivery held firm overall in Tuesday's trading. Gains in the Midwest, Great Lakes, Mid-Atlantic and Marcellus were able to counter weakness in the Gulf, West Texas and the San Juan Basin and California. Nationally spot prices gained a penny to average $4.14.

Few changes were seen in the forecasts for brutal cold settling in over the nation's midsection and Denver's high Wednesday was expected to be a brisk 40 degrees below normal. Futures trading has ratcheted up the volatility as traders scour weather reports to gain a trading edge, and at the close December had eased 0.8 cent to $4.247 and January was down 0.7 cent to $4.344. December crude oil added 54 cents to $77.94/bbl.

Consistent double-digit gains were seen at Midwest and Great Lakes points as the thermometer was seen running consistently 20 degrees or more below seasonal norms. Wunderground.com predicted the high in Chicago Tuesday of 42 would drop to 34 Wednesday and succumb to 33 by Thursday. The normal high in Chicago is 51 in mid November. Omaha, NE's high reading of 29 Tuesday was forecast to drop to 28 Wednesday and Thursday, 24 degrees below normal. Denver's Tuesday high of 22 was predicted to drop to 10 Wednesday but climb to 19 on Thursday. The normal high in Denver is 50.

Gas on Alliance for Wednesday added 10 cents to $4.53 and gas at the Chicago Citygates gained 13 cents to $4.54. Packages at the ANR Joliet Hub traded 8 cents higher at $4.51 and on Consumers next-day gas rose 13 cents to $4.53. Gas on Michcon added 9 cents to $4.52.

Producing Zones feeding the Midwest also posted sizeable gains. Gas for Wednesday on Panhandle Eastern jumped 20 cents to $4.17 and on ANR SW parcels were quoted 20 cents higher at $4.23. At the NGPL Midcontinent Pool next-day gas was seen at $4.10, up 6 cents and on OGT gas changed hands 5 cents higher at $4.05. On NGPL Amarillo Wednesday packages rose 8 cents to $4.42.

The National Weather Service serving Denver and Boulder, CO said "Temperatures will go nowhere today with readings expected only in the lower to middle teens...Readings over Wyoming are only in the single digits so temperatures may even drop a few degrees this afternoon over northern sections. The record low maximum for today is 19 degrees so [it] looks like we may break this record as well."

West Coast and California locations suffered losses as temperatures were expected to change little and hover right around seasonal norms. Wunderground.com predicted the high in Los Angeles of 68 Tuesday would ease to 67 Wednesday before adding a degree for Thursday. The normal high in Los Angeles is 71. San Francisco's forecast high of 63 Tuesday was seen dropping to 62 Wednesday before inching up to 65 Thursday. The normal mid-November high in San Francisco is 64. San Diego's high of 68 Tuesday was seen holding for Wednesday and Thursday. The normal high in San Diego is 70.

Next-day gas at Malin came in 2 cents lower at $4.24 and deliveries to PG&E Citygates shed 25 cents to $4.50. Gas at the SoCal Citygates was seen 12 cents lower at $4.42 and gas at SoCal Border points changed hands 5 cents lower at $4.33. On El Paso S Mainline Wednesday gas came in at $4.31, down 7 cents.

Analysts suggest the futures price gains may be over for awhile. "[Monday's] approximate four-and-a-half month highs followed by a close below Friday’s low strongly suggests that this rally has run its course," said Jim Ritterbusch of Ritterbusch and Associates.

"But, while some private forecasts may be advising some temperature moderation by late next week, views that we monitor still appear bullish with large deviations from normal extending across an unusually large portion of the nation,” he said. “We are reluctant to read too much into today’s price as the magnitude of this recent advance is keeping long holders anxious to accept partial profits. But, while highs have likely been placed, we are leaving open the possibility of another run at the $4.55 resistance if cold weather views are extended further into the final week of this month."

That cold may just be forthcoming, but the weather picture appears fluid. Joe Bastardi, meteorologist with WeatherBELL Analytics, says "There is not much doubt about the vigor of the cold in the coming 10 days, [and overnight] ECMWF [European Model] Weeklies colder again than previous run, [but] ECMWF keeps flipping around."

At present there doesn't seem to be any clear end in sight to the cold onslaught. "Looking at the other map background, there is a major change in the Gulf of Alaska, but I think this is a jailbreak occurring! By Day 15 a rapidly progressing ridge is building rapidly eastward through the Gulf of Alaska," said Bastardi.

"This may be headed for western Canada. In the meantime the deep trough in the nation's midsection is forcing ridging to its northeast which should get ‘squeezed’ northwestward in the means. The entire jet energy that is coming through the Northwest may then cave into the mean trough over the nation's midsection. While people may be thinking this model is signaling the end, it may be simply a reload."

Others see a moderating outlook. "This morning’s [Tuesday's] weather models affirmed the net demand losses, with the Southeast [through] Texas appearing less cold for next week and the whole eastern U.S. shifting warmer [through] the weekend," said Teri Viswanath, director of natural gas trading strategy for BNP Paribas. "What’s more the model ensembles now lose the ridging over Alaska in the 11-15 day period, the pattern responsible for ushering cold air southward out of Canada into the U.S. on the east side of the Rockies.  With milder more variable weather ahead this month, traders are losing confidence in the heating demand call on supply."

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