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Cash Quotes Hold Their Own, But Futures Take a Dive

Next-day gas was flat in Thursday's trading as gains of more than $2.00 at some New England points, along with solid advances in the Mid-Atlantic, were able to counter broad weakness in the Marcellus, Gulf, Midwest, Rockies and California.

Factor out the over-sized gains in the Northeast, however, and once again a different picture emerges, one of a soft next-day market. Without the Northeast advances, overall prices dropped a nickel. Those declines paled in comparison to the double-digit drubbing of the futures.

At the close, December had fallen 20.8 cents to $3.977, and January was off 19.5 cents to $4.089 as weather forecasts were moderated slightly. December crude oil swan-dived $2.97 to $74.21/bbl, the lowest in more than four years.

Futures prices tumbled as forecasters called for some moderation in the current cold onslaught. In some corners the cold was being looked at as a one-off event and not characteristic of the winter heating season. Cascading petroleum prices didn't help the cause of the bulls either, and some analysts sensed market weakness going into the day's trading.

"We are in a congestion band of $4.12 to $4.25 but the market feels heavy,” said ICAP Energy LLC’s Drew Wozniak, vice president of market research and development, of Wednesday’s performance. “Then next band below this is $3.99 to $4.07. The reason I am saying this is if [natural gas] can get below the $4.12 level, there could be a rapid sell-off. Conversely, the upside is less consistent but there is a band of consolidation from $4.36 to $4.46.

"After the rundown from [Tuesday's] post-close bull blip, we entered very choppy waters.  Volume is still low with high chop as the algos [algorithmic traders] battle it out and the human force is not participating – it’s the signature. I am a bear for the moment, as any lift has been weak and short lived."

Noon updates to the weather outlook Thursday suggested somewhat less cold weather.

"Overall, the 12z GFS is pretty good," said meteorologist Joe Bastardi of WeatherBell Analytics. "It shows, correctly, the change in the source region of the air. This means that the troughs won't summon super cold air once by the first eight days. That does not mean it has to be warm, just not as bitingly cold.

"The trough in the eight-to-10 day is likely to be stronger than the model has. However, behind it the chill is of the 'normal' variety, something you'd expect, not the historic stuff that is going on now."

Bastardi called the new GFS data "palatable" and said the "six-to-10 day period will be chilly, just not historic. Would not change your morning strategy based on this run."

Physical traders in the Northeast were less impressed with the new GFS data. They had to deal with temperatures and demand not expected earlier.

Wunderground.com predicted that Boston's Thursday high of 49 would fall to 44 by Friday and 40 by Saturday. The seasonal high is 52. Hartford, CT's Thursday max of 52 was seen falling to 43 Friday and 42 by Saturday; the normal mid-November high is 49. New York City's 49 high on Thursday was expected to drop to 43 by Friday and Saturday, 12 degrees below its seasonal norm.

At the Algonquin Citygates, next-day parcels shot higher by $2.07 to $10.11, and gas on Tennessee Zone 6 200 L added $2.07 to $9.75. At thinly traded Dracut, next-day gas vaulted $1.69 to $9.68.

Mid-Atlantic locations were also firm. Gas headed for New York City on Transco Zone 6 rose 1 cent to $4.00, and deliveries on Tetco M-3 added 4 cents to $4.00.

The National Weather Service in southeast Massachusetts said a "fast moving low pressure [zone] will result in rain changing to snow northwest of the Cape Cod canal” beginning late Thursday into early Friday morning.

There was a “potential for an inch or two especially over southeast New England, which will make for hazardous driving conditions for the Friday morning commute. Weather improves by midday Friday and continues into Saturday but it remains unseasonably cold.

“Low pressure approaching from the south will likely bring some rain to the coast and perhaps a wintry mix to the interior Sunday night into Monday evening. The coldest weather of the season may invade the region by next Tuesday and Wednesday."

Pipeline restrictions also played a part in the day's meteoric rise at New England points. Algonquin Gas Transmission reported restrictions at its Stony Brook and Southeast Compressor Stations as well as at Burrillville.

A pipeline veteran said the restrictions "were a function of what the nominations are. Shippers are doing what they normally do and there are a lot of people moving a lot of gas around and trying to take advantage of the spreads. They use the cheapest transport they can that gives them the ability to move gas on certain days. When it gets really cold secondary in-path agreements get cut."

Midwest and Great Lakes points were mostly weaker. Gas on Alliance fell 9 cents to $4.40, and deliveries to the Chicago Citygates were off a nickel to $4.43. Gas at the ANR Joliet Hub skidded 9 cents to $4.39, and packages at Demarcations changed hands 9 cents lower at $4.40. Deliveries to ANR SW, however, added 6 cents to $4.23.

WSI Corp. in its morning six- to 10-day outlook said Thursday's six-to-10 day forecast “is colder than previous forecasts across the southern U.S., but elsewhere it's not quite as cold due in part to the day shift.

"Forecast confidence is considered near average based on good medium range model agreement with the reinforcing arctic shot during the front half of the period. As usual, there are technical differences late in the period. There is a slight risk to the colder side across the Midwest, Northeast and much of the eastern U.S.. The interior West into the south-central states, mainly late in the period."

The weekly Energy Information Administration storage report was delayed to Friday in observance of Veteran's Day. Analysts are suggesting inventories will continue to increase. Market bulls may look to the report to help stem some price hemorrhaging, and current expectations are in the range of a 40 Bcf inventory increase.

Deficits to both last year and the five-year average should contract further. Last year 22 Bcf was injected, and the five-year pace stands at 16 Bcf. Citi Futures Perspective is looking for a 46 Bcf build, and Drew Wozniak of United ICAP calculates a 37 Bcf increase.

Industry consultant Bentek Energy calculates a 38 Bcf build, "nearly double the announced injection from the same week last year of 22 Bcf and is close to triple the five-year average of a 16 Bcf build. Total demand increased by 5.8 Bcf/d from the previous week to average 64.1 Bcf/d while production remained flat, averaging 70.6 Bcf/d during the week.

According to Bentek's analysis, fundamental data clashed with its observed injection data. "Fundamentals are supporting a relatively strong build this week in the upper 40s.” However, its sample of injection activity “implies a slightly smaller build but still above the last year and five-year averages.”

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