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Natural gas for Tuesday delivery posted double-digit gains in Monday trading as dollar-plus advances in the Northeast alongside strength in the Gulf Coast and Marcellus were easily able to offset weakness in the Rockies and California.
The NGI National Spot Gas Average rose 12 cents to $2.60 as forecasters called for an aggressive snowstorm to pummel the Northeast. Next-day power prices also added a supportive push to prices. Futures had a hard time adjusting to Friday's high altitude and retreated as analysts suggested a technical correction was in the cards. At the close, February had retreated 7.6 cents to $2.396 and March had given up 8.2 cents to $2.389. February crude oil continued to lose traction, falling $1.75 to $31.41/bbl, the lowest in more than 12 years.
Northeast prices roared ahead as a powerful lake-effect storm was set to hammer portions of Ohio, New York and Pennsylvania. AccuWeather.com predicted that Chicago's high of 23 Monday would slide to 15 Tuesday and make it back to 26 Wednesday, 5 degrees below normal. Toledo, OH's high of 18 Monday was seen rising to 22 Tuesday before slipping to 15 on Wednesday, 17 degrees below normal. Buffalo, NY, was forecast to see its high of 22 Monday reach 31 by Tuesday, but fall back to 22 Wednesday, 9 degrees below normal.
Next-day power prices gave gas buyers for power generation a modest incentive to purchase incremental supplies. Intercontinental Exchange reported that power at ISO New England's Massachusetts Hub rose $3.78 to $49.58/MWh and peak Tuesday power at the New York ISO's Zone G delivery point (eastern New York) added $1.22 to $44.94/MWh.
"The return of arctic air to the Lower 48 is setting the stage for feet of snow this week in the snow belts of the Great Lakes. In addition, a windy clipper low-pressure system will bring a general light snow to the Great Lakes, Ohio Valley and parts of the Northeast, resulting in hazardous travel conditions," said Weather.com in a report.
"An invasion of arctic air has sent temperatures plunging to dangerously cold levels in parts of the Plains and Midwest. The cold air is also now impacting the Northeast, where record warmth occurred on Sunday. Subzero temperatures were recorded Sunday morning as far south as northern Kansas and northern Missouri. Fosston, MN, was the coldest location in the Lower 48, with a low of 35 degrees below zero. Many locations in the northern Plains and upper Midwest experienced wind chills in the 20s and 30s below zero."
California prices, on the other hand, slumped as next-day power into Southern California fell. Intercontinental Exchange reported on-peak power at the SP-15 delivery point fell $2.08 to $33.06/MWh.
Gas at the SoCal Citygate gave up a nickel to $2.76, and deliveries priced at the Southern California Border Average fell 8 cents to $2.57. Gas on El Paso S. Mainline/N. Baja fell a dime to $2.58, and deliveries to Kern River shed 7 cents to $2.58.
Major market hubs were mixed. Gas at the Chicago Citygate fell 2 cents to $2.57, and deliveries to the Henry Hub were quoted at $2.53, up 6 cents. Gas on Transwestern San Juan fell 4 cents to $2.53, and gas at the PG&E Citygate was quoted a penny higher at $2.83.
Weather forecasters over the weekend looking longer term had to wrestle with diverging forecasts, but overall see a cool near term followed by more El Nino-like conditions longer term. In a Monday morning report Matt Rogers, president of Commodity Weather Group, said, "a bigger split has evolved between the American and European models in the six-10 day range, with the American more like our forecast from Friday with more warmth on the East Coast, while the usually more skillful European is colder for the Midwest, East and South overall. We leaned in this colder direction today, which leads to general demand gains that are enhanced by colder short-term conditions, too, especially in the Midwest.
"Otherwise, the American and European come back together somewhat better for warming trends in the 11-15 day. This is not a super-warm pattern, but the models slowly dismantle the colder, blocking components of the pattern in favor of warmer Pacific-influenced flow thanks to El Nino influences.
Last week's market strength has gotten the attention of risk managers. "After consolidating most of the week, the gas market rallied late in the week on a larger than anticipated storage draw and a continuation of colder than normal temperatures," said Mike DeVooght, president of DEVO Capital. "We did see a sharp decline in open interest this past week, which is signaling that the shorts are starting to liquidate their positions. On a trade basis, we will continue to stand aside [all accounts] and will look for an opportunity to establish short producer hedges at higher levels."
Market technicians are calling the rise from mid-December a classic five-part Elliott Wave pattern and are looking for a correction. "The price action up off the $1.684 [Dec. 18] low looks very much like a textbook perfect five-wave rally," said Walter Zimmermann, vice president at United ICAP, utilizing a 300 minute bar chart. "And it looks like a five-wave rally that just peaked at the $2.495 high. This suggests an "abc" correction has begun. A decisive break below $2.300 is now needed to buttress this bear case," he said in a weekly note to clients.