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Weather Models Tweaked Warmer; February Seen 7 Cents Lower

February natural gas is expected to open 7 cents lower Friday morning at $3.09 as weather forecasts tempered near-term movement of cold into the U.S. but still held out the possibility of cold later on. Overnight oil markets rose.

Overnight weather models moderated. WSI Corp. in both its six- to 10 and 11- to 15-day outlook showed a lesser influx of cold. "[Friday's] 11-15 day period forecast also backed off on the magnitude of the cold weather that is still anticipated during the end of the month. Forecast confidence is about average as medium-range models are in reasonably good agreement with the large-scale pattern, despite the technical differences during the six-10 day period," the forecaster said.

"Despite today's upward revision, the expected EPO [Eastern Pacific Oscillation] like pattern supports a risk back to the colder side across the eastern two thirds of the nation."

Analysts saw changing weather outlooks as one of the ingredients in Thursday's post-Energy Information Administration (EIA) storage report sell-off. "Compared to the overnight run, the midday weather models reflected a much warmer outlook for next week, with a notable absence of below-normal temperatures," said Teri Viswanath, director of natural gas strategy at BNP Paribas. The more moderate weather outlook appeared to offer traders a reasonable excuse to partially unwind the week-to-date rally.

"With roughly half the winter ahead, the dimming prospects of a January thaw have stalled the natural gas sell-off. Moderate heating demand, coupled with strong production growth, enabled the industry to record the lightest December inventory withdrawals in three decades -- a development that seemingly increased the odds of running out of storage next summer. Yet the colder weather pattern unfolding this month suggests to us that there still might be time for the industry to sufficiently pare inventory levels by the end of the season," Viswanath said.

In overnight Globex trading February crude oil added 76 cents to $47.01/bbl and February RBOB gasoline gained 2 cents to $1.3588/gal.

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