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Dominion South at Record Low as Cash Weakens; Futures Inch Higher

Physical gas for Wednesday delivery continued to spiral lower in Tuesday's trading as weather forecasts called for load-killing moderate temperatures to prevail up and down the Eastern Seaboard.

The steepest price declines were seen in the Northeast and Mid-Atlantic, but record low prices were seen at some Marcellus points. A few scattered points in the Rockies and Midcontinent did make it to the positive side of the trading ledger, and the overall market decline was 18 cents. January futures added 2.7 cents to $3.171 and February rose 2.4 cents to $3.204. February crude oil rose $1.86 to $57.12/bbl.

Eastern prices for Wednesday took it on the chin as weather forecasts called for temperatures as much as 20 degrees above normal. AccuWeather.com forecast that the high in Boston Tuesday of 46 would jump to 57 Wednesday and Thursday. The normal high in Boston is 39. New York City's 46 maximum Tuesday was seen rising to 61 Wednesday before sliding to 54 Thursday. The normal mid-December high in New York is 41. Philadelphia's 52 Tuesday high was predicted to reach 62 Wednesday and fall back to 54 Thursday. The normal high in Philadelphia is 42.

Quotes at the Algonquin Citygates fell 92 cents to $2.22, and Wednesday deliveries to Iroquois Waddington lost 15 cents to $3.02. Gas on Tennessee Zone 6 200 L dropped 83 cents to $2.42.

Most Marcellus locations traded under $1. Next-day gas on Millennium East Pool fell 34 cents to $1.04, but Wednesday packages on Transco Leidy Line dropped 35 cents to 94 cents. Gas on Tennessee Zone 4 Marcellus plunged 42 cents to 90 cents, and parcels on Dominion South finished 28 cents lower at 95 cents. Dominion South traded as low as 88 cents during the day, the point’s lowest since May 1997, according to NGI data.

Gas bound for New York City on Transco Zone 6 fell $1.31 to $1.66, and packages on Tetco M-3 retreated 28 cents to $1.13.

Although temperatures are expected to be mild for the next couple of days, winter conditions in the Mid-Atlantic are anything but. "Holiday travel will be at risk across the Philadelphia area on Christmas Eve as a strong storm takes shape and blasts through the Northeast," said Jordan Root, an AccuWeather.com meteorologist.

"As warmer air surges into the region, heavy rain, gusty winds, low clouds and poor visibility will be featured at times. Rounds of low cloud ceilings, heavy rain, fog and wind can impede arriving and departing flights. Rain and fog can impact those taking to the highways. Temperatures will surge into the 60s Wednesday night into early Christmas morning before falling back later on Christmas Day."

Next-day peak power also weakened throughout the area. IntercontinentalExchange reported that peak Wednesday power at the PJM West terminal fell $4.65 to $29.18/MWh and at the New York ISO Zone G delivery point (eastern New York) next-day peak power lost $7.38 to $31.62/MWh. At ISO New England's Massachusetts Hub, Wednesday peak power fell $5.70 to $28.22/MWh.

Gulf Coast locations were not immune to sagging prices either. Gas at the Henry Hub for Wednesday fell 7 cents to $2.97, and deliveries to Transco Zone 3 lost 16 cents to $2.81. On Tennessee 500 L, next-day parcels changed hands at $2.82, down 11 cents, and at Katy gas for Wednesday was quoted at $2.78, down 18 cents.

The last two days of free-falling prices has analysts revising their price forecasts. "It has become clear that as cold as it was in November, it is as mild or warm in December. Relatively moderate heating demand, coupled with strong production growth, has put the industry on track to record the lightest December stock reduction in three decades," said Teri Viswanath, director of natural gas trading strategy at BNP Paribas.

"Consequently, the unseasonably mild weather this month now necessitates abnormally cold conditions ahead in order to avert a surplus. The increased possibility that the industry will face physical challenges in managing excess supplies next summer raises caveats to the early season forecast we issued in October.

"With high end-of-winter stock levels likely to pressure prices toward new lows next spring, we have revised our U.S. natural gas price forecast for the first half of 2015 to better reflect our expectation that demand-side balancing will likely be required next season. Accordingly, our front-loaded revisions suggest delivered gas price will average $3.60/MMBtu in 2015 versus the $3.75/MMBtu previously predicted."

Wednesday's release of storage data will give observers the chance to better tune quickly changing estimates of end-of-season inventory levels. Last year, a hefty 193 Bcf was withdrawn, and the five-year average stands at a 138 Bcf pull. IAF Advisors calculates a withdrawal of 58 Bcf and ICAP Energy is looking for a pull of 60 Bcf. A Reuters poll of 20 traders and analysts revealed an average 64 Bcf reduction with a range of 55-73 Bcf.

Weather forecasters are still calling for post-Christmas cold. "So while colder weather patterns are still expected beginning later this week and likely lasting through New Year's Day, it's still not convincing as far as how it will exactly play out, especially regarding how aggressive cold air will be pushing into the northern U.S.," said Natgasweather.com in closing comments Monday to clients.

"There still remains good potential for very cold temperatures to occur over many regions; it's just there has been slightly more weather and climate data to introduce some doubt on just how impressive it will be. The coming pattern remains very unstable, where slight adjustments in the track of weather systems coming out of southern Canada and into the U.S. are leading to extremely large differences in the the amount of cold air being tapped and also how far into the U.S. it pushes, especially from Dec. 27th through Jan. third. So while we still expect the eastern U.S. to be mild with periods of rain the next few days, cooler conditions will arrive as the storm over the central U.S. strengthens and tracks east [Tuesday]."

In spite of Monday's 32-cent free-fall, technical traders versed in Elliott Wave and retracement analysis aren't willing to give up on the bullish case just yet. "Is this a dip to buy? Is there any hope for a late seasonal advance?" said Brian LaRose, a technical analyst at United ICAP, in closing comments to clients Monday.

"While we are reluctant to give up on the bulls, we have to draw the line somewhere. But that line is still down at $2.844-2.581. [We] see this as the zone the bears need to crack to completely void the case for any sort of seasonal advance. Reminder, the bulk of last year's seasonal advance occurred after the start of the new year."

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