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Spring-Like Temperature Forecasts Prompt Free-Falling NatGas Physical, Futures; March Down 27 Cents

Natural gas physical and futures prices Tuesday both had the trajectory of a safe falling from a 10-story building.

One point followed by NGI managed to trade unchanged, but for all other points solid, double-digit losses were common. The NGI National Spot Gas Average fell 18 cents to $2.42.

Weather forecasts in short-, medium-, and longer-term time frames all called for much above normal temperatures, and this week temperatures in major metropolitan areas were expected to be 25 degrees or more above normal. Futures traders were content to concentrate on medium- and longer-term forecasts, and those forecasts were more mild than those of Monday.

At the close, the March contract had dropped 27 cents to $2.564, and April was down 26 cents to $2.691. March crude oil expired at $54.06, up 66 cents.

Natural gas is facing very difficult times," said Al Levine, principal with Powerhouse LLC, a Washington DC-based energy and risk management firm. "The bottom line is if you don't have the demand, you are not going to have the price.

"Even though we are importing less gas, and production is declining, and with gas prices at these levels it's not surprising, but if you look at the price curve out into the summer, it is much higher than next year. That's a bullish signal.

"This market is sending us a whole bunch of contradictory signals."

In March of 2016 spot futures bottomed at $1.611, and not that that price level is on anybody's radar screen, the weather dynamic with last year is approaching parity. Heating degree days (HDD) "are disappearing compared to the norm, and compared to last year we have drawn even, and now we are likely to lose even more," Levine said.

Temperature forecasts were more reminiscent of April than February for major market zones. AccuWeather.com forecast that New York City's Tuesday high of 47 would jump to 57 Wednesday and reach a balmy 68 by Thursday, 25 degrees above normal. Chicago's Tuesday high of 66 was seen rising to 69 Wednesday before dropping to 57 Thursday, 19 degrees above normal. Dallas' 76 high Tuesday was predicted to rise to 81 Wednesday and climb further to 85 by Thursday, a stout 23 degrees above normal.

Gas at the Algonquin Citygate shed 39 cents to $2.67, and deliveries to Iroquois, Waddington fell 23 cents to $2.73. Packages on Tennessee Zone 6 200 L skidded 83 cents to $2.63.

Midwest points didn't quite take the same beating New England points did. Gas at the Chicago Citygate fell 12 cents to $2.57, and deliveries to Consumers were quoted 17 cents lower at $2.54. Gas on Michigan Consolidated changed hands 18 cents lower at $2.57, and gas on Northern Natural Demarc came in 14 cents lower at $2.42.

Gas at the Henry Hub fell 23 cents to $2.52, and packages on El Paso Permian skidded 16 cents to $2.31. Deliveries to Opal fell 10 cents to $2.36, and gas priced at the SoCal Border Avg. eased 6 cents to $2.54.

Both medium- and longer-term temperature forecasts called for less heating load.

WSI Corp. in a Tuesday morning report to clients said its six- to 10-day and 11- to 15-day forecasts were warmer than Monday's. In the 11- to 15-day outlook it said the "forecast is warmer than yesterday's forecast, except for parts of the East. CONUS GWHDDs are down three for days 11-14 when compared to yesterday and are forecast to be 101.5 for the whole period. These are 18.3 below average.

"Forecast confidence levels are only near average, at best, today. Models continue to support a change from a -PNA [Pacific North American pattern] to -WP [West Pacific] that should foster a broad cooling trend. However, there remains model spread and uncertainty with how quickly and how much cold air expands into the eastern two-thirds of the U.S."

Market analysts contend that as long as mild temperatures force an ongoing supply surplus expansion, a market bottom is not likely any time soon.

"Much of the nation's Midcontinent, such as the critical Chicago area, are seeing near-record high temperatures that are forcing a recalculation of HDD accumulation during the next couple of weeks," said Jim Ritterbusch of Ritterbusch and Associates in a Tuesday morning report to clients. "It appears that withdrawals will be sharply downsized, at least through the EIA report to be issued on March 9th. This week's release on Thursday is apt to post about an 85 Bcf withdrawal, according to our calculations, a decline that would imply a whopping 73 Bcf expansion in the supply surplus against five-year average levels.

"Until this dynamic of surplus expansion shows sign of reversal, a price bottom could prove elusive. Furthermore, with reliable short-term temperature views soon to be extended into the second week of March, the likelihood of a major broad-based cold spell will be reduced. In other words, even some major cold deviations from normal wouldn't necessarily equate to a large accumulation of HDDs. Although gas pricing below the $2.75 level will begin to prompt some additional coal-to-gas substitution that will be boosting demand within the power sector, this factor tends to be a slow mover."

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