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Free-Falling Northeast, Strong Midwest, Midcontinent Offset; Futures Up By Double Digits

Next-day natural gas overall inched lower in Wednesday's trading as multi-dollar drops in New England were able to offset broad gains seen across a wide expanse encompassing the Marcellus, Midwest, Midcontinent, Gulf, and California.

The National cash market average lost 6 cents to $4.52. Although temperatures in key Midwest markets were expected to ease by the weekend, near-term temperatures prompted a stout 25-cent gain across the Midwest.

At the close of futures trading, December had risen 12.7 cents to $4.371, and January was up 15.1 cents to $4.516. December crude oil slipped 3 cents to $74.58/gal.

Bitter cold rules in the Midwest, which helped elevate next-day gas prices in both market zones and producing zones. Forecaster AccuWeather.com predicted that Minneapolis' Wednesday high of 23 would drop to 16 Thursday before recovering to 26 on Friday. The seasonal high in Minneapolis is 38. Chicago's Wednesday max of 31 was seen dropping to 24 Thursday and moving to 27 Friday. The normal mid-November high in the Windy City is 47. Detroit is expected to see its 31 high on Wednesday fall to 28 Thursday and Friday, well below the normal high of 45.

Gas on Alliance rose 24 cents to $5.03, and deliveries to the Chicago Citygates were quoted 25 cents higher at $5.05. Packages on Consumers rose 22 cents to $4.94, and parcels on Michcon gained 27 cents to $4.95. Gas at Demarcation changed hands 23 cents higher at $4.98.

Producing zones also participated in the stronger prices. Gas on ANR SW added 12 cents to $4.51, and deliveries to NGPL Amarillo rose by 27 cents to $4.93. At the NGPL Midcontinent Pool, next-day parcels were seen at $4.41, up 19 cents, and on Panhandle Eastern gas was quoted at $4.43, up 4 cents. On OGT, next-day deliveries came in 15 cents higher at  $4.36.

Midwest markets will eventually see a warming trend by the weekend.

"Frigid conditions across much of the country will still be the story in the city and surrounding suburbs as winterlike weather is expected to persist through the end of the week," said , AccuWeather.com meteorologist Chyna Glenn. "Light snow showers will come to an end Friday as northwesterly winds and lake-effect snow begin to diminish, [and] a system in the Gulf of Mexico will send a surge of warmth and wet weather towards Detroit this weekend.

"Encroaching warmth from a developing system in the Gulf of Mexico will allow noticeably warmer air to advance northward to the Great Lakes and Northeast. High temperatures will trend upward from the 30s to near 50F this weekend."

In the Northeast, PJM announced it set a new preliminary peak for power demand for the month of November on Nov. 18 at 7 p.m. The preliminary peak demand was 121,987 MW. Last November, the highest demand for electricity was 114,699 MW on Nov. 26. PJM attributed the increased demand for power to colder temperatures throughout its service area.

PJM said it has been taking steps to prepare for the winter season, including more testing of generating equipment beforehand, improving operating procedures and improving coordination with the gas pipeline industry.   

Wednesday was a different story, as Northeast next-day gas prices plunged -- aided and abetted by falling next-day peak power prices and forecasts of steady to lower loads.

ISO New England predicted peak loads Wednesday of 18,460 MW would fall to 18,060 MW Thursday and 17,790 MW Friday. PJM forecast peak load of 41,413 MW Wednesday would drop to 39,342 MW Thursday and 39,061 MW Friday.

Next-day peak power also offered little incentive for power producers to purchase incremental volumes. IntercontinentalExchange reported that peak power Thursday at the ISO New England's Massachusetts Hub tumbled $16.94 to $53.18/MWh and peak power delivered to the PJM West terminal fell $17.52 to $47.56/MWh.

At the Algonquin Citygates,Thursday deliveries fell $2.69 to $5.84, and parcels at Iroquois Waddington skidded 41 cents to $5.24. On Tennessee Zone 6 200 L, next-day gas swan-dived $2.38 to $5.72.

Gas bound for New York City on Transco Zone 6 fell $1.54 to $4.79, yet gas on Tetco M-3 rose 9 cents to $4.41. Marcellus points firmed. Gas on Transco Leidy added 11 cents to $2.93.

Cold weather in the Midwest and points east gave shippers incentive to move less gas to California markets, and the normal 10 cent plus margin between SoCal Citygates and SoCal Border points narrowed.

Gas for delivery Thursday to SoCal Citygates rose 17 cents to $4.72, but deliveries to SoCal Border points added 21 cents to $4.68.

Observers will have a keen interest in Thursday's Energy Information Administration storage report, which is likely to show the first withdrawal of the season. Expectations are running close to the five-year average of a 10 Bcf draw but somewhat less than last year's 36 Bcf pull. IAF Advisors in Houston is looking for an 8 Bcf withdrawal, and ICAP Energy calculates a 14 Bcf reduction. A Reuters poll of 25 traders and analysts resulted in a sample mean of minus 12 Bcf with a range of minus 2 Bcf to minus 33 Bcf.

"I think a 10 Bcf withdrawal will push the market down," said Tom Saal of INTL FC Stone. "In order for the bears to rethink their position, I think you will need a triple-digit draw. You probably won't get one Thursday, but next week if we get triple digits the bears might have something to think about."

Tim Evans of Citi Futures Perspective saw Tuesday's 10-cent drop as "a technical correction that saw the contract retreat as much as 19.2 cents (4.4%) from the prior close. However, with the temperature outlook still featuring colder than normal temperatures, the market recovered to near unchanged before fading into the close."

Evans is looking for a withdrawal of 18 Bcf in Thursday's storage report compared to early estimates in the 10-15 Bcf range. "Although our forecast suggests some potential for a minor bullish surprise, we note that any surprise will have a relatively small impact relative to the impact the heating demand and the larger storage withdrawal for the current week will have.

"After the midday [Tuesday] forecast revisions, the overall change in our storage forecast was mostly a question of timing, with the week ending Nov. 28 somewhat less bearish and the week ending Dec. 5 somewhat less bullish than a day ago. The chief bullish feature remains this week's colder than normal temperatures that we see translating into a 130 Bcf net withdrawal. We think the market will have a further opportunity to probe the upside ahead of the release of that number at noon on Nov. 26, just ahead of the Thanksgiving holiday."

Saal sees buying March '15 and selling April '15 as a viable hedge trade. That trade, also know as the "widow maker," is presently trading at a differential of 49 cents, but Saal sees a near-term target of 60 cents.

"All current winter month's long positions [rolled] into the next month will eventually be rolled into March '15 (the last month of the winter season). In addition, fundamentally, the market should be at its most short physical position in March (storage drained)," he said in a Wednesday morning note.

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