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Northeast NatGas Forwards Sink on Winter’s False Start

January natural gas prices in the U.S. Northeast shed as much as 61 cents for the period between Dec. 4 and 10 as forecasts continue to be more reflective of spring temperatures than winter.

Highs in New York City are forecast to be in the mid-60s for Monday (Dec. 14), more than 20 degrees above normal, according to AccuWeather.com. The rest of the week, though cooler, still has temperatures coming in more than 10 degrees above normal.

It’s the same story in Boston, where daytime highs are expected in the mid- to upper-50s for the better part of the week, more than 10 degrees above normal.

The balmy outlook sent forward prices in the region tumbling, NGI’s Forward Look data shows.

At Transco Zone 6-New York, January fixed prices plunged 61 cents between Dec. 4 and 10 to reach $4.53. February was down 38 cents to $5.40, while the balance of winter (February-March) was down 29 cents to $4.05.

Meanwhile, next-day cash prices in New York for the Dec. 4-10 timeframe averaged just $1.80, NGI’s Daily Gas Price Index data show.

At Tetco M3, January dropped 35 cents to $2.73, while the balance of winter slid 18 cents to $2.56.

M3 next-day cash prices averaged about $1.30 for the week.

In typically high-priced New England, the Algonquin Gas Transmission citygates’ prompt month tumbled more than 50 cents to settle Dec. 10 at $5.45, while the balance of winter shed 43 cents to reach $5.36, according to Forward Look.

Cash at Algonquin averaged just $2.03 this week and even averaged as low as $1.47 on Thursday. You read that correctly: a $1 handle at Algonquin during the winter.

And if current weather outlooks are correct, temperatures won’t get anywhere near seasonal averages until the weekend before Christmas, which will likely keep a firm grip on prices.

So far this winter, cold blasts have arrived every few days, providing a temporary bump in natural gas demand, but nothing that lasts longer than a few days. It’s a pattern that forecasters at NatGasWeather expect will continue.

“The markets really need prolonged cold over the East if bearish weather sentiment is going to end, and that has yet to convincingly show up in the data, even with some very cold solutions still being produced at times,” the agency said.

Other forecasters agree that sentiment is likely to remain bearish until cold weather is more sustained.

Bespoke Weather Services said atmospheric indicators give little hope for a pattern change, however, and mild weather could likely last through January.

The National Oceanic Atmospheric Administration said Dec. 10 the current El Nino event, which is responsible for this winter’s mild weather, is ranking second behind only 1997’s event but could potentially break that record.

Furthermore, the agency said some weakening of the El Nino is not likely until the spring and summer.

“Once the pattern flips, natural gas prices could quickly rally back, but we remain unsure how much more room there is for prices to fall on this bearish weather before the reversal occurs,” Bespoke said.

If this week is any indication, there could be much more room.

Nymex January prices tumbled 17 cents between Dec. 4 and 10, settling at $2.015. The balance of winter (February-March) dropped 16 cents to settle at $2.104.

Cash, meanwhile, averaged $2 during that time and fell to the $1.70s by Friday.

The weakness in the futures strip comes even as market experts were surprised by this week’s storage report from the U.S. Energy Information Administration, which reported a 76 Bcf withdrawal from inventories.

Most analysts had pegged the storage withdrawal in the mid-60 Bcf area.

Similar price erosion along the forward curve was seen at most market hubs, although Western markets were comparably stronger as most of the weather systems on tap for the coming days are expected to push into that region first.

Most Western markets saw January fixed prices come off about 10 cents on average, according to NGI’s Forward Look.

Interestingly, not all markets’ curves were solely in the red.

Algonquin’s summer 2016 strip managed to pick up about 12 cents during the week to settle at $2.89, Forward Look data shows.

That strength is likely attributed to some planned maintenance on the Algonquin system before the Algonquin Incremental Market project comes online by the end of 2016.

In its scheduled maintenance outage plan released this week, Algonquin has said it will reduce operating capacity at the Stony Point compressor station to 1.25 Bcfd, from its design of 1.5 Bcf/d, from April 2 through the end of October.

Starting in mid-April, capacity will be reduced further, falling to 886 MMcf/d between May 1 and Aug. 31.

In mid-September, capacity through Stony Point will be reduced to its lowest level of 709 MMcf/d, the pipeline said.

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