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NatGas Cash Surges, Buoyed by Eastern Gains; Futures Add A Penny

Weekend and Monday natural gas rocketed higher in trading Friday, led by Herculean advances at eastern market points.

Dollar-plus gains along the Eastern Seaboard were more than able to counter softer pricing in Texas, the Midcontinent and Midwest. The NGI National Spot Gas Average rose a stout 24 cents to $3.75. Futures trading had no answer to the exuberant physical market, and at the close February had risen 1.2 cents to $3.285 and March was higher by 2.0 cents to $3.288. February crude oil added 23 cents to $53.99/bbl following a supportive employment report by the Labor Department.

Spot gas prices in New England and the Mid-Atlantic vaulted higher as forecasts called for a winter storm to march up the East Coast reaching Canada by Sunday. AccuWeather.com forecast that Boston's Friday high of 33 degrees would slip to 30 by Saturday and ease further to 27 by Monday, 9 degrees below normal. New York City could look forward to Friday's high of 34 sliding to 28 by Saturday and 29 by Monday, also 9 degrees off seasonal norms. Philadelphia was anticipated to see see a high Friday of 34 drop to 29 Saturday and inch up to 30 by Monday, 10 degrees below normal.

Gas delivered to the Algonquin Citygate jumped $1.24 to $9.09, and packages at Iroquois, Waddington soared $2.51 to $8.48. Gas on Tenn Zone 6 200L gained $2.14 to $9.85.

Packages on Texas Eastern M-3, Delivery shot higher by $2.48 to $6.16, and gas on Transco Zone 6 on its way to New York City gained $2.53 to $7.85.

Not only were temperatures expected to be below normal, but heavy snowfall was also expected. "A storm developing in the Gulf [Coast] states will race to the North Carolina coast by [Saturday] morning and to Nova Scotia by Sunday morning," said AccuWeather.com meteorologist Elliot Abrams.

"Loaded with moisture, it can dump a foot of snow in less than 12 hours but will have a sharp northern edge. Where the snow is wet, trees will topple and power will be cut. Deeper into the cold air, it will be a powdery snow that blows, drifts and hides things (such as traffic stopped just ahead of you)."

Other market hubs couldn't match the gains in the East. Gas at the Chicago Citygate was up a penny at $3.33, and deliveries to the Henry Hub rose 2 cents to $3.32. Gas on Panhandle Eastern fell by 7 cents to $3.18, and deliveries to Opal were quoted a dime lower at $3.16. Gas at the PG&E Citygate was flat at $3.47.

Monday power loads in the Mid-Atlantic were forecast higher than Friday. PJM Interconnection forecast that Friday's peak load of 39,867 MW would reach 41,977 MW Monday.

Overnight weather models showed near-term moderation.

MDA Weather Services in its Friday morning six- to 10-day outlook said, "The forecast sees a sizable change in the warmer direction today in the South and along the East Coast, which comes as a result of increased unsettledness in the southern Midwest acting to limit the southward extent of a colder Canadian air mass into the U.S. from mid to late period. Strong aboves are now expected to average the period in parts of the South, including in Texas, while much aboves span northward into the Northeast. Strong cold will remain in place from Western Canada toward the Northern Plains, with the coldest air being found there in the early half of the period."

MDA said risks to the forecast include the "Euro model show[ing] some cold air damming potential late in the East; but given the positive tilt to the pattern, this is likely only a brief and marginal cold risk. Texas could peak warmer still."

Traders see continued weakness of another 15 cents. "[Thursday's] data reinforced our short term convictions that nearby futures will decline further to the $3.13 area where we will look to approach the long side in anticipation of another weather driven price up-turn that could approach last week's highs," said Jim Ritterbusch of Ritterbusch and Associates in a note to clients.

"But we will also note that the storage deficit against 5 year averages per [Thursday's] data is considerably smaller than expected at only about 21 Bcf. So, until another Arctic blast shows up within the forecasts, supply would appear sufficient to preclude a sustainable price advance. But as seen on many occasions during the past 3 months, the temperature views can change dramatically within a very short time frame in prompting some vicious price reversals either up or down. Regardless, we will look to approach the long side on further price weakening while we also suggest maintaining bull spreads such as long April-short December 2017 positions."

The Labor Department reported Friday morning non-farm payrolls had increased 156,000 during December, somewhat less than the 175,000 forecast by economists. The unemployment rate inched up 0.1% to 4.7%. The Dow Jones Industrial Average rose 64 points to 19,963.

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