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Northeast, Midcontinent, and Midwest Big Winners In Weekly Natural Gas Trading

It was a great week to be a seller of physical gas especially if you had transportation into the refrigerators of the Northeast and Midwest. The NGI National Weekly Spot Gas Average pogo-sticked $1.88 higher to $5.78, and only a handful of points failed to make it to the positive side of the trading ledger.

The Midcontinent and Midwest made multi-dollar gains of $1.52 and $4.19 to average $4.16 and $7.20, respectively, but the Northeast took home the bacon with a $4.61 advance to $11.84.

The market point making the week's greatest move and also posting the week's highest trade was Transco Zone 6 non-NY North with a weekly rise of $24.13 to average $33.13. On Wednesday gas changed hands at the southeast Pennsylvania location at one point at $125.00, the highest seen so far this season. The week's low-ball market point also went to the Northeast with Tennessee Zone 6 200 L dropping $1.50 to $16.31.

Outside of the frozen tundra of the North and middle section of the country, regional gains were more modest. South Texas added 18 cents to $2.80 and both California and East Texas added 19 cents to $2.83 and $2.82, respectively.

The Rocky Mountains gained 22 cents to $2.60 and South Louisiana added 24 cents to $2.95.

Not to be outdone, the March futures contract added 14.7 cents for the week to $2.951, but following the release of storage data Thursday, March had risen less than a penny and April less than 2 cents. Thursday's report was expected to be a tempered affair, with a modest 110 Bcf or so draw on the docket. With this week's cold, however, early estimates for next week's report of more than 200 Bcf are in the mix. The Energy Information Administration (EIA) reported a withdrawal of 111 Bcf for the week ended Feb. 13, right in line with expectations, and futures traders were duly unimpressed. At the close Thursday March had risen 0.3 cent to $2.834 and April was up 1.8 cents to $2.875.

Most analysts were close to the 111 Bcf draw reported by the EIA. For the week ended Feb. 13, Citi Futures Perspective came in on the low end of the spectrum with a 96 Bcf estimate, and United ICAP calculated a 113 Bcf pull. Bentek Energy's flow model figured on a withdrawal of 109 Bcf. Last year, a stout 247 Bcf was withdrawn, and the five-year average is for a 181 Bcf pull.

"This report was pretty much of a yawner," said a New York floor trader. "We were hearing 110 Bcf and it came in at 111 Bcf. I think everyone is looking ahead to next week and what impact all this cold is having on demand."

Tim Evans of Citi Futures Perspective said "The draw was bearish relative to the five-year average benchmark, but in line with the consensus expectation.  We think this will allow the market to pivot quickly toward a focus on current and forecast cold, and the larger storage withdrawals that will result over the next two reports."

Next week's report looks to be a humdinger. Next week Evans forecasts a pull of 240 Bcf and says what is likely to be a storage surplus, year-on-five-year will "move back out to a deficit of 118 Bcf as of Feb. 27 before slipping again to 104 Bcf as of March 6. While this prospect hasn't been enough to spark short-covering so far, we do see potential for a run back up to the $3.20 area last seen in mid-January over the next week or two."

Inventories now stand at 2,157 Bcf and are 678 Bcf greater than last year and 58 Bcf above the 5-year average. In the East Region 97 Bcf were withdrawn and the West Region saw inventories increase by 4 Bcf. Stocks in the Producing Region declined by 18 Bcf.

Analysts acknowledge that current cold weather is at least a temporary supporting factor, but down the road the next major price move is likely to be lower. "[T]he weather factor remains heavily skewed in a bullish direction. Although some significant moderation is expected later next week, this market will likely require a shift toward warmer than normal trends before gathering much downside price momentum," said Jim Ritterbusch of Ritterbusch and Associates.

"Regardless, we still see the next 35-cent price move as more apt to develop on the downside rather than on the upside given the fact that a supply surplus has now been established against the five-year averages. While this overhang of about 58 Bcf could prove brief given this week's extreme cold, a sizable surplus against last year continues to grow and is currently approximating a whopping 680 Bcf. And with winter winding down and production still approaching record levels, the market would appear to be poised for a sizable selloff next month that could easily reach to our targeted $2.50 area. All in all, our basic trading strategy remains the same as we still advise shorts into the April contract within the $2.80-2.88 zone with stop protection above $2.90 on a close-only basis."

Technical analysts, however, see a case unfolding for a short-term advance that could take prices above $3. "[We] see no reason to abandon the case for an ABC advance unfolding from the $2.567 low," said Brian LaRose, a technical analyst at United ICAP. "Fail to break out above the recent highs and further consolidation remains possible near term."

In Friday's trading weekend and Monday parcels were mixed as eastern and Mid-Atlantic points were down by multi-dollar denominations, but market points in the Midwest and those more closely aligned with the Henry Hub gained ground.

Forecasts for the Mid-Atlantic called for temperature moderation over the weekend, but Midwest temperature trends still held readings well below normal, and most points added a dollar or more. The Gulf Coast, Midcontinent, Rockies and California were up by well over a dime. On average, the market fell 57 cents to $4.93. Futures gravitated higher and posted the third winning day in a row. March added 11.7 cents to $2.951, and April rose by 9.7 cents to $2.972. March crude oil expired at $50.34, down 82 cents.

Mid-Atlantic weekend and Monday gas fell hard as temperatures were forecast to reach near-normal levels during the weekend and Monday peak power prices plummeted. AccuWeather.com predicted that the high in Philadelphia Friday of 18 would jump to 33 on Saturday and advance to 46 on Sunday. The seasonal high in Philadelphia is 45. Baltimore, MD's Friday maximum of 17 was seen reaching 30 by Saturday and up to 45 Sunday. The normal high in Baltimore is 47. Richmond, VA's 20 high Friday was predicted to rise to 39 Saturday and 51 Sunday, just 2 degrees below normal.

Gas bound for New York City on Transco Zone 6 fell $1.69 to $19.96, and deliveries on Tetco M-3 fell $2.97 to $11.84.

Price declines in New England far outdid those in the Marcellus. Gas at the Algonquin Citygates for weekend and Monday delivery shed $3.56 to $13.53, and gas at Iroquois Waddington fell 24 cents to $11.17. Gas on Tennessee Zone 6 200 L was off by $4.11 to $10.98.

Gas on Tennessee Zone 4 Marcellus was down by 16 cents to $1.32, and packages at Transco Leidy were off by 8 cents to $1.41. Gas on Dominion South fell 17 cents to $2.65.

Peak power for Monday delivery across the East dropped by double or in some cases triple digits. Intercontinental Exchange reported that peak Monday power at the New York ISO Zone G (eastern New York) delivery point fell by $23.00 to $151.00/MWh and at the ISO New England's Massachusetts Hub Monday peak power was quoted at $130.31/MWh, down $32.69. Peak power at the PJM West terminal tumbled $105.39 to $109.16/MWh.

Peak power prices may be down for Monday, but Appalachia and the Southeast Mid-Atlantic continued to flirt with if not surpass demand records, according to industry consultants. Genscape said, "Appalachia demand set a new single-day record high of 22.28 Bcf/d [Thursday], as confirmed in the data. This exceeded the previous high of 21.75 Bcf/d set last winter on Jan.28, 2014.

"Southeast/Mid-Atlantic demand came within 0.11 Bcf/d of setting a new record as well. Thursday's demand was 24.18 Bcf/d. The current record high was set this Jan. 7, 2015 at 24.29 Bcf/d. A brief reprieve from the cold weather hitting the Midwest and eastern U.S. is expected this weekend before another bout of below-normal temperatures blankets the market next week. Temperatures in Chicago, Boston, New York, [Washington] DC, and Atlanta are forecast to run 10-20 degrees F below seasonal norms on Monday and Tuesday, with the potential to do so again in Appalachia and New England later in the week.

"Genscape's regional demand forecasts have Midwest demand cresting at 16 Bcf/d again by Monday; New England demand flirting with max-capacity limits over 4 Bcf/d on Monday and Tuesday; Appalachia demand breaking the 22 Bcf/d mark again on Monday; and SEMA [Southeast Mid-Atlantic] demand cresting 18 Bcf/d and remaining there through Thursday."

At Midwest points $1 and $2 gains for weekend and Monday gas were seen as weather conditions refused to moderate. AccuWeather.com reported that Chicago' high of 21 was seen rising to 31 Saturday before falling to 14 Sunday, a mere 23 degrees below normal. Detroit's 13 high on Friday was predicted to reach 30 on Saturday but slide to 20 on Sunday. The normal high in Detroit is 34.

Gas on Alliance jumped $1.19 to $7.20, and parcels at the ANR Joliet Hub rose by $1.37 to $7.31. Gas at Demarcation added $2.47 to $6.80, and gas on Consumers rose by $1.09 to $6.76. On Michcon, weekend and Monday gas changed hands at $5.96, up 65 cents.

Weather forecasts came in slightly colder overnight as the dominant pattern of western ridging shifts. MDA Weather Services in its Friday morning six- to 10-day outlook said, "The forecast features a pattern shift in this period as the dominant western ridge over the past several weeks regresses back into the central-North Pacific (a response to the recent rise in the SOI -- Southern Oscillation Index).

"While this allows for colder temperatures in the West, the East looks to remain quite cold, with widespread much and strong 'belows' from the Plains to the East Coast. The forecast trends colder [Friday], once again, in the central U.S., where models point to even stronger cold potential as high pressure drops into the region from mid to late period. The West likewise carries colder risks."

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