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February Weather Offers Little to Encourage March Futures

March futures led off its run as the prompt month on a downward track, tumbling 26.7 cents to close out the week Friday at $2.69, after storage withdrawals failed to live up to their advance billing, but some weather forecasters saw encouragement in some possibly approaching cold weather.

NatGasWeather predicted additional cold blasts will follow last Friday’s and Sunday’s storms, with the most extreme temperatures remaining over the Great Lakes and Northeast.

“A few of these weather systems are fairly intimidating and will bring some very cold temperatures where lows will drop into the single digits and below zero, which will certainly drive periods of much stronger heating demand over some high population Midwest and Northeast cities,” NatGasWeather watchers said.

But the forecasters warned that the pattern after Feb. 7 continues to be seen as warmer than normal over the western and central U.S., with only the eastern U.S. near or slightly colder than normal.

One trader agreed. “February is cold for the first two weeks,” a Northeast trader said. “This may be the only place that has concentrated cold in February.”

Analysts aren't expecting any kind of significant weather event to draw inventories low enough to cause a rally in prices.

"Inventory destocking is typically at its highest level in January, given the tendency of the coldest weather to surface during this month," said BNP Paribas' Teri Viswanath, director of natural gas trading strategy, in a note regarding the EIA report of a 94 Bcf withdrawal, 20 Bcf below expectations, last Thursday. "The release represents the slimmest January withdrawal since 2012, a comparison that was certainly not lost on the market. A warmer midday weather model run simply fortified the ongoing sell-off, sending the front of the curve to the lowest levels since September 2012.

"And while colder weather has enabled heavier destocking to take place this month, the aggregate monthly drawdown will still fall short of the five-year average level. Looking ahead to February, we see a similar pattern of variable weather limiting the call on storage."

Once the withdrawal season ends, the market will be staring down the barrel of as much as 7 Bcf/d of additional production, and "with prices now re-aligned with 2012 levels, the question remains on whether fundamentals will contribute to the same sort precipitous collapse that occurred that year." Viswanath said.

Meanwhile, Genscape’s current demand projections show Appalachian demand peaking at 20.84 Bcf/d on Tuesday before tumbling back to 15.46 Bcf/d by Friday and averaging near 15.50 Bcf/d for the second week of February.

New England demand was expected to peak at 4.22 Bcf/d on Tuesday but then slide to 3.48 Bcf/d by Friday and averaging around 3.435 Bcf/d for the second week of February.

The maximum demand ever recorded in New England is 4.04 Bcf/d, which was set earlier this month on Jan. 7, according to Genscape.

Total East production the past seven days is about 140 MMcf/d above the 30-day average and about 300 MMcf/d off from December levels, according to Genscape.

“I think that’s just some of the hangover from the disruptions earlier in the month,” Genscape’s Rick  Margolin said. “I think folks have very little faith in the weather models of late because there’s been so much daily volatility, and revisions keep moving to the warm side.”

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