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Forecast Midwest Cold Lifts Market; February Called 15 Cents Higher

February natural gas is expected to open 15 cents higher Monday morning at $3.15 as traders factor in bone-rattling cold across key energy markets. Overnight oil markets plunged.

Weather forecasters are calling for temperatures to be well below normal for the week. "A wave of low pressure will move across the central third of the country on Monday, while an onshore flow will persist over the Northwest," said Kari Stenfel, Wunderground.com meteorologist.

"An arctic high-pressure system will sink southeastward over the Midwest and the Ohio Valley, [and] temperatures will be 20 to 30 degrees below normal across the region. In addition, moderate to heavy snow showers will develop over the upper Midwest and the Great Lakes. Just to the east, scattered snow showers will linger over parts of the interior Mid-Atlantic and New England as a strong low-pressure system slides over eastern Canada."

Out west "a low-pressure system is forecast to move east-southeastward over the upper intermountain West and the northern Plains. Heavy snow showers will impact the northern Rockies, and moderate snow showers will develop across the northern Plains. High pressure will remain in place across the Southwest, keeping conditions clear across the desert Southwest, the Great Basin and the southern Rockies on Monday," she said.

Wunderground.com forecasts that Chicago's Monday high of 12 is expected to make it no higher than 4 on Wednesday and reach 9 by Friday. The normal high in Chicago in early January is 32. New York City, on the other hand, is forecast to see a high Monday of 44 ease to 28 by Wednesday and climb back to 34 on Friday. The seasonal high in New York is 38.

The National Weather Service forecasts a big jump in heating requirements for the week ending Jan. 10. The greater Midwest from Ohio to Wisconsin is expected to shiver under 381 heating degree days (HDD), 88 more than normal. New England is forecast to endure 286 HDD, seven more than normal, and the Mid-Atlantic should see 279 HDD, or 19 more than its seasonal tally.

Risk managers are looking for a short-term advance. "On a trading basis, the gas market has been weaker than we anticipated," said Mike DeVooght, president of DEVO Capital. "It's difficult to say if the weakness has been overdone because of mild weather, the weakness in the [oil] complex, or us underestimating the appetite for the funds being short the gas market. But looking forward, we feel the gas market should be well supported at the $3.00 level, and we think there is a good chance of rebounding to the $3.40-3.50 level. Therefore, we will maintain our long positions at this time."

DeVooght suggests that trading accounts and end-users both hold long February $4.20 call options against the sale of $3.90 February puts.

Tom Saal, vice president at INTL FC Stone in Miami, in his work with Market Profile has identified pricing targets given various winter weather scenarios. "Price volatility is still very much alive in the natural gas futures market," he said in Monday morning comments to clients.

Saal expects the market to test a value area between $3.304 and $4.041, then $4.114 and $4.414. "If winter fails to materialize, maybe test $2.143 to $1.949."

In overnight Globex trading February crude oil fell $1.69 to $51.00/bbl and February RBOB gasoline continued lower, giving up 4 cents to $13945/gal.

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