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Near-Term NatGas Cash Keeps Slip Slidin' Away; Futures Draw to Mixed Close

Natural gas cash prices slumped again Monday as weather forecasts in major population centers deviated from seasonal norms and came in significantly warmer. One point followed by NGI finished unchanged, but all other market points were mostly lower, some by double-digits.

The NGI National Spot Gas Average fell a stout 13 cents to $2.79. Power markets softened as well.

Futures managed to finagle a mixed close, and March settled down 1.3 cents to $3.050, and April rose one-tenth of a cent to $3.117. March crude oil retreated 82 cents to $53.01/bbl.

Market observers are beginning to ask if this is it for winter.

"Now that the first full week of February is upon us and the weather forecasts show warmer temperatures across most of the county in the 1-5 and 6-10 day periods, the question needs to be asked is winter over?" Portland, OR-based EnergyGPS, a consulting/risk management firm, asked in a morning report. "When it comes to the fundamentals, the warmer forecast is putting a damper on the overall rescom demand across the Midwest, Ohio Valley and the East."

The biggest declines were reserved for the Northeast, but quotes at market trading centers across the country tumbled.

Deliveries to the Chicago Citygate were off 6 cents to $2.88, and gas at the Henry Hub shed 8 cents to $2.92. Gas on El Paso Permian was quoted 10 cents lower at $2.62, and Kern Receipt fell 6 cents to $2.68. SoCal Citygate dropped a penny to $3.00.

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In some cases, forecast near-term temperatures were seen 20 degrees above normal. AccuWeather.com predicted the high Monday in Philadelphia of 51 would climb to 55 Tuesday and reach 62 by Wednesday; the normal high this time of year is 42. Chicago's Monday max of 51 was forecast to rise to 54 Tuesday before dropping to 33 Wednesday, the seasonal average. The high in Dallas on Monday of 81 was predicted to rise to 83 Tuesday before slipping to 78 Wednesday, 19 degrees above normal.

Weak next-day power prices helped deflate eastern next-day gas. Intercontinental Exchange reported on-peak power for Tuesday delivery at the ISO New England's Massachusetts Hub fell $7.32 to $31.02/MWh, and at the PJM West terminal on-peak Tuesday power dropped $2.31 to $26.11/MWh.

Deliveries to the Algonquin Citygate skidded $1.48 to $3.06, and gas on Iroquois, Waddington fell 48 cents to $3.04. Packages on Tenn Zone 6 200L changed hands $1.31 lower at $3.13.

Futures traders look for technical support at $3.00 to maintain some market stability. “$3 looks like it wants to hold," said a New York floor trader. "You've got big support at $3, and resistance at $3.25. We've been on either side of $3.25, but $3 should hold."

Longer term traders now have to factor in growing supply previously thought to be somewhat captive. The recent approvals by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission of transportation projects, which continued late Friday, have altered the trading landscape going forward.

Given Friday's steep drop, analysts are cautious in predicting further declines, but the fundamental factors of weather and transportation continue to deteriorate for the bulls.

"Weather forecasts for heating demand continued their downward march since the beginning of 2017, losing another 12.4 gas-weighted heating degree days and 24 Bcf of demand for Weeks 2 and 3," said EBW AnalyticsGroup President Andy Weissman in a Monday report to clients.

Weissman said the FERC authorizations last week for both the Rover and Atlantic Sunrise pipelines "have changed the price outlook for natural gas in 2017. Previously, anticipated tight market conditions for the second half of 2017 and winter 2017-2018 had been an important source of support for the front-month contract. Last week's pipeline authorizations have substantially reduced this pillar of support.

"Together with further deteriorating weather forecasts in addition to seasonal declines in demand, market momentum has shifted in a strongly bearish direction. Given precipitous price declines last week, however, and strong technical support near $3.00/MMBtu, further price declines may take multiple trading sessions to materialize."

Others also see transportation issues affecting prices.

"The gas market is going to continue to be sensitive to weather over the next two months," said DEVO Capital President Mike DeVooght. "If we continue to see warmer than normal temperatures, we will see gas trade below $3.00 in the near future. If temperature forecasts turn colder than normal, we could easily see gas test the $3.40-$3.50 level.

"Looking forward into mid 2017/early 2018, we feel the gas market is going to have a difficult time holding above the mid $3 range as take away capacity out of the Marcellus and Utica expands."

DeVooght said he liquidated his short position for trading accounts and advised them to stand aside for now.

End users also were advised to stand aside and producers should hold the remainder of a August 2016-July 2017 put strip initiated at $2.70 and offset with the sale of a $3.50 call option. Alternatively, DeVooght suggested holding a $2.75 put strip balanced by the sale of a $3.75 call strip and paying 7 cents.

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