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Nearly All Natural Gas Points Thrown For A Loss; Futures Drift Lower

Natural gas buyers were in no mood to spring for weekend and Monday packages on Friday, with forecasts of rising temperatures and more seasonal weather at hand. Prices fell hard and only a single lightly traded point saw positive movement.

Double-digit losses were common at most points, and locations in the East and Northeast endured single and double-dollar digit declines. The average physical market loss was $1.36 to $2.80. Futures moved little and were held to a 9-cent trading range. At the close April had fallen 0.2 cent to $2.839 and May was off 0.8 cent to $2.872. April crude oil retreated $1.15 to $49.61/bbl.

The Mid-Atlantic took the major hits, but New England locations were not far behind, and rising temperature trends from New England through the Ohio Valley to the Midwest and Great Lakes were enough to keep buyers on the sidelines. Wunderground.com forecast that the 26 high in Boston Friday would climb to 36 Saturday and reach 43 by Monday, the normal high. Pittsburgh's Friday peak of 24 was expected to jump to 42 Saturday and make it to 47 Monday. The normal high in Pittsburgh is 45 in early March. Chicago's 28 high Friday was predicted to reach 43 both Saturday and Monday, the normal high.

Deliveries to New York City on Transco Zone 6 tumbled $10.76 to $3.13, and gas on Tetco M-3 shed $9.26 to $2.71.

New England points weren't too far behind. Gas at the Algonquin Citygates for weekend and Monday delivery skidded $7.58 to $6.65, and parcels at Iroquois Waddington lost $3.72 to $3.77.

Marcellus points also weakened. Deliveries to Millennium fell 5 cents to $1.45, and deliveries to Transco Leidy lost 9 cents to $1.23. Deliveries to Tennessee Zone 4 Marcellus were off 4 cents to $1.20. On Dominion South gas changed hands 51 cents lower at $2.22.

The Ohio Valley is expected to see welcome warmth. "A winter chill around Pittsburgh this weekend will be ahead of milder weather forecast for the upcoming week," said AccuWeather.com meteorologist Alex Sosnowski. "The more typical March weather will allow people to get outdoors and some to catch up on shopping, [and] in the wake of the recent snowstorm and cold nights this weekend, temperatures will rebound to seasonable levels during the second week of March.

"Highs are forecast to average in the 40s starting on Sunday. With daytime highs well above freezing and nights near or below freezing, the existing snow cover will gradually melt. Area rivers will have to be watched for possible ice jams with the upcoming milder weather forecast. However, the freeze and thaw cycles will not create rapid runoff initially.

"A slow-moving storm with rain is forecast to remain in the South next week, [and] even warmer weather is poised for later in the month. Should that warmth be accompanied by drenching rain, then the risk of flooding will increase for the Northeast," Sosnowski said.

Midwest points also saw hefty price declines. Gas for weekend and Monday delivery on Alliance fell 80 cents to $2.90, and deliveries to the Chicago Citygates slumped 56 cents to $2.84. Gas on Michcon was quoted 52 cents lower to $2.97, and parcels at Demarcation came in at $2.68, down 46 cents.

If trading natural gas futures weren't challenging enough, traders Friday had errant price data from the New York Mercantile Exchange to put up with. "I saw the prints go up and I called the floor and thought 'that's got to be someone on the floor screwing up,'" said Tom Saal, vice president at INTL FC Stone in Miami.

"I asked if anyone from Nymex was on the floor and to ask them about $3.77 in the April 2015 futures contract; 30 seconds later the guy comes back and says they messed up."

The high price for the April 2015 contract was later corrected to $2.870.

In an announcement Nymex also called the price a "preliminary settlement." "That's the first time I have ever seen settlements occur during the day," said Saal.

Analysts are maintaining a bearish posture on the market even with a hefty 200 Bcf or thereabouts withdrawal report expected for next week. "This market appeared to respond appropriately to [Thursday's] bullish EIA storage report," said Jim Ritterbusch of Ritterbusch and Associates in closing comments Thursday. "The 228 Bcf withdrawal was much larger than we had anticipated as the deficit against five-year averages stretched by a whopping 113 Bcf. Total supply has now dropped to 1.71 Tcf with another draw approaching 200 Bcf likely tabled for next week's EIA report given this week's extreme cold.

"But we will need to fine-tune this expectation in the light of a significant warmup that will begin tomorrow. These milder temps are generally expected to extend out to about the official beginning of the spring period. And as the market is forced to focus more on the supply side of the equation, an expected record pace of production will become a larger topic of conversation.

"Despite the fact that [Thursday's] storage figure was appreciably larger than we had expected, it failed to alter our short-term bearish opinion of this market. We still favor fresh short positions at current levels within the $2.80-2.88 zone, risking to above $2.95 on a close only basis while leaving downside possibilities to the $2.50 area on the table. While the fundamental landscape has shifted with end-of-season supply now likely to come in below 1.5 Tcf, such a supply would be sharply upsized from last year's bottom of about 0.825 Tcf," he said.

Gas buyers for weekend power generation across the MISO footprint will likely have the challenge of balancing mild temperatures and strong, though highly variable, wind generation. "Cold high pressure will depart [Friday] supporting fair weather and moderating temperatures," said WSI Corp. in its Friday morning forecast. "A west-southwest breeze ahead of a duo of Alberta Clipper-like systems may further moderate the cold weather during the weekend, as well as brush the upper Midwest with a chance of snow showers. Fair and mild, more spring like warmth may develop early next week with the potential for highs well into the 40s and 50s, even some 60s.

"Elevated, albeit variable, wind generation is expected during the next couple of days. Output may occasionally peak upward of 7-9 GW. Wind generation may drop off by Sunday morning, but conditions may increase early next week."

Saal, in his work with Market Profile, sees the market continuing its upward momentum and now approaching the week's 150% breakout target of $2.881. "Wednesday was the fourth non-trend day in this lower price consolidation range, then followed by a 3-2-1 up day, inferring short-covering," he said. "And we know who is net short big time.”

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