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Northeast Physical NatGas Price Declines Stifle Western, Rockies Strength

Next-day gas weakened in trading Monday, led by declines in the Northeast approaching a half dollar. A weak power environment made incremental purchases of gas for power generation less appealing, and gains in the Rocky Mountains and California were unable to offset not only soft eastern pricing, but also broad weakness in the Gulf, Midwest, and Midcontinent.

The NGI National Spot Gas Average shed 13 cents to $2.11. Futures managed a small gain, which may have been notable in light of tumbling crude and products prices. February rose 1.9 cents to $2.158 and March added 1.4 cents to $2.155. March crude oil skidded $1.85 to $30.34/bbl.

Falling eastern power loads gave buyers for power generation little reason to make spot purchases as residents dug themselves out from a massive weekend snowstorm. The Associated Press reported that at its peak 90,000 residents of New Jersey were without power and in Philadelphia and Washington DC as many as 2000 to 3000 homes were without power. Governors Chris Christie of New Jersey and Andrew Cuomo of New York both declared states of emergency.

The PJM Interconnection forecast that peak load Monday of 40,237 MW would fall to 39,253 MW Tuesday and reach 39,405 MW Wednesday. The New York ISO predicted peak load Monday of 21,664 MW would slide to 21,116 MW Tuesday and fall further to 21,054 MW Wednesday.

Gas on Tetco M-3 Delivery shed 79 cents to $1.55 and gas bound for New York City on Transco Zone 6 fell $1.12 to $2.68.

Farther north deliveries to the Algonquin Citygate dropped $0.96on light volume and gas on Iroquois Waddington fell 31 cents to $2.50. Gas on Tennessee Zone 6 200L came in 64 cents lower at $3.77.

On-peak power prices also declined. Intercontinental Exchange reported that on-peak power Tuesday at the ISO New England's Massachusetts Hub dropped $3.38 to $40.72/MWh and power at the PJM West terminal fell  $6.44 to $31.14/MWh. On-peak power at the Indiana Hub gave up $1.25 to $25.25/MWh.

Next-day prices at major hubs were mixed. Gas at the Chicago Citygate fell a penny to $2.17 and gas at the Henry Hub changed hands 8 cents lower to $2.14. Deliveries to Opal rose 6 cents to $2.09 and gas at the PG&E Citygate was unchanged at $2.47.

"It's actually a good sign that natural gas rose with crude and products falling," said a New York floor trader. "Normally when you see the other markets depressed like this natural gas follows, but this says that there is some strength in the natural gas. $2.25 is the next target higher."

Longer term analysts, however, are mixed, with some lowering their forecast natural gas prices for 2016, while others are raising them. "Nat gas prices have been on a roller coaster in recent weeks. After dipping to $1.75/MMBtu mid-December, the lowest level since February 1999, Henry Hub spot prices rebounded by 41% since mid-January as weather normalized and turned colder," said BofA Merrill Lynch Global Research in a report.

"Since then prices have taken another leg down and are now trading at $2.14/MMBtu, the lowest level since 1999 on a seasonally adjusted basis. The recent price moves have been mostly driven by exceptional winter weather, and the back of the curve has been relatively more stable since mid-December. Thus, we revise down our average 2016 nat gas price forecast to $2.60/MMBtu, from $3.00 before, on warm winter temperatures."

However, the Energy Information Administration (EIA) said Monday it expects the benchmark Henry Hub to average $2.65/MMBtu in 2016 and $3.22/MMBtu in 2017 (see related story). The increases, compared with $2.63/MMBtu in 2015, will come thanks to consumption growth, mainly from the industrial sector, that are expected to outpace near-term production growth, EIA said in its latestShort-Term Energy Outlook (STEO).

Overnight weather models trended warmer near term, yet the longer-term picture is less clear. Commodity Weather Group in its Monday morning report said, "Adjustments this week are mostly in the warmer direction for the Midwest to East with some impressive warmth setting up for the six-10 day, which progressed forward from the warm 11-15 day outlooks of late last week. Initial days following the snowstorm are not yielding as cold of impacts expected, probably thanks to the lack of a serious high-pressure area behind it. Clouds and fog from daytime melting are holding the big city temperatures warmer this morning and that is assisting some short-term warmer changes.

"Meanwhile, the 11-15 day is the big looming forecast challenge [Monday] morning as the American and Canadian models keep favoring colder trends, while the European lingers some modest warmth both East and South."

A challenging 11- to 15-day forecast or not, analysts suggest the process may have already begun as the market starts factoring in a period of more moderate temperatures.

"In our experience, a cold snap typically gives the natural gas market three chances to rally," said Tim Evans of Citi Futures Perspective in closing comments to clients Friday.

"Once on the forecast, once on the cold itself, and one more time if a large enough impact on storage is reported. In the current cycle, we saw prices rally to a peak on Jan. 8 on the back of the forecast for cold, but futures prices have only managed to move sideways on the week's cold

"We see the market as having one more chance to move up in anticipation of a larger storage withdrawal for the week ended Jan. 22. However, the failure to move higher on the cold itself does warn that the market may continue to look somewhat further forward to the warming trend for the weeks ahead."

Heating load forecasts call for near-term ease. The National Weather Service for the week ending Jan. 30 expects New England to see 235 heating degree days (HDD), or 48 below normal, and New York, New Jersey and Pennsylvania should expect 235 HDD as well, or 28 below normal. The greater Midwest from Ohio to Wisconsin is forecast to have 233 HDD, or 60 below its normal seasonal tally.

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