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Double Weather Whammy Hits NatGas Cash, Futures Traders; March Drops 11 Cents

Whether you were a short-term natural gas trader Friday looking to buy or sell weekend and Monday physical packages, or you were a longer-term futures trader anticipating that $3 technical support would hold, the bears had a weather forecast just for you.

Only a handful of market points followed by NGI even made it to unchanged, and the majority of market points dropped by double digits or more. The NGI National Spot Gas Average tumbled 31 cents to $2.82, and the Northeast led the parade lower with a series $1-plus declines.

Futures opened about a dime lower as overnight weather models turned milder, and at the close March had skidded 10.7 cents to $3.034 and April was off 9.2 cents to $3.117. March crude oil added 86 cents to $53.86/bbl.

Major market centers over the weekend were forecast to be at or above normal temperatures, and the Thursday storm that pummeled the Northeast was expected to be out over the weekend. AccuWeather.com forecast that Chicago's Friday high of 42 degrees would reach 47 by Saturday before easing to 44 by Monday, 10 degrees above normal. New York City's high on Friday of 32 was seen rising to 43 Saturday and dropping to 39 Monday, 2 degrees below normal.

Gas at the Algonquin Citygate plunged $1.65 to $4.14, and deliveries to Iroquois, Waddington skidded $1.15 to $3.47. Gas on Tennessee Zone 6 200 L fell $1.72 to $4.31.

Parcels on Tetco M-3 were quoted 45 cents lower at $2.66, and deliveries to New York City on Transco Zone 6 changed hands down $2.09 to $2.85.

More temperate conditions are expected to prevail in the Northeast following the stormy blast. "During the period from this afternoon into [Saturday] milder air will be advancing from the Midwest toward the Middle and North Atlantic states," said AccuWeather.com meteorologist Elliot Abrams.

"From most of Illinois to southern Pennsylvania, this should be accomplished without precipitation. From the central Great Lakes to New England, the action of warm air climbing over cold air under a favorable jet stream configuration (right rear quadrant of the jet for meteorologists) precipitation will break out, and there could be something like a one- to three-inch snowfall from Buffalo to Boston.

Major market centers weakened as well. Gas at the Chicago Citygate fell 14 cents to $2.86, and deliveries to the Henry Hub gave up 17 cents to $2.93. Gas on El Paso Permian shed 17 cents to $2.63, and parcels at the Cheyenne Hub fell 15 cents to $2.67. Gas delivered to the PG&E Citygate retreated 15 cents to $3.32.

Futures traders are zeroed in on $3 technical support. "We are saying on our website that $2.99 to $3 is major technical support and needs to hold," said Steve Blair, vice president at Rafferty Technical Research.

Blair says what actions one takes depends on whether one is a speculator or a hedger. "From a hedge perspective, this is a good place to put on long hedges, and from a speculative position, it's not a bad place to buy the market with a short leash. I don't know if I would want to go short if it breaks $3 because we still have some winter left, although there isn't a lot of cold weather in sight.

"Maybe we are seeing slightly lower production and more exports, so I am not convinced breaking the $3 area is going to prompt any big moves down."

Longer-term weather forecasts turned still more moderate. "The already warm dominated [11-to 15-day] forecast trends additionally warmer today, featuring a coverage of much above normal temperatures across most of the eastern half," said MDA Weather Services in its Friday morning report to clients. "This comes in a period influenced by the MJO [Madden Julian Oscillation] tracking through phase one, a phase which has produced similar pattern themes as is forecast in other cases seen this winter. The American model, however, remains a less-warm scenario, but this is likely a bias relating to the MJO and over-phasing of upper-level features.

"Low pressure is expected to track across the country; and despite weakened heights left in its wake, cold air is lacking with this system. Low pressure's passage across the country could offer a brief cold risk, but a connection to a colder source region is lacking. Bias correcting European model data argues for an even warmer eastern half."

Other traders see a market void of trading opportunities.

"The market appears more focused on forward EIA reports where [Thursday's] surplus contraction is apt to be followed by a renewed expansion in the overhang next week that should be followed by additional stretch in the surplus," said Jim Ritterbusch of Ritterbusch and Associates in closing comments Thursday.

"This dynamic of an expanding overhang to being accompanied by a lack of significant cold weather in reliable forecasts that are now stretching out to about the 23rd of this month. This is why nearby futures were unable to test nearest chart resistance at the $3.20-3.22 region. Until one last hurrah of sustainable cold temps shows up within the short-term forecasts, this market could contain to about the $3.00-3.20 zone.

"We still see the $3 support as vulnerable as we leave open the possibility of an eventual price drop into the $2.80-2.90 zone. However, we are still not seeing enough of a rally to support a short position and, as a result, we will maintain a sideline stance for now.

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