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Warm Forecast Trend Continues; March Natural Gas Called a Nickel Lower

March natural gas was set to open Friday about 5 cents lower at around $2.645 as a market already disappointed in the outlook for February cold saw forecasts trend even warmer overnight.

“There’s still expected to be numerous weather systems track across the northern U.S. with bouts of cooling, but with the southern half of the country and up the East Coast continuing to look rather mild with strong high pressure dominating,” NatGasWeather.com told clients early Friday morning. The Feb. 21-24 period “looks quite bearish with colder air into the West and a big fat mild ridge over the South and East.

“Prices bounced from $2.69-2.70 numerous times this week but finally crashed through overnight as the Global Forecast System weather model was milder to lose several heating degree days (HDD), with prices then dropping a few additional cents when the European model also followed suit,” the firm said. “...It won’t take as much cold air going forward to meet five-year average storage draws, so any decent sustained cold snaps will again increase deficits. But until then, the markets are clearly stating they require colder patterns.”

In its latest six- to 10-day outlook Friday, Radiant Solutions said the forecast continued to show warming trends in the past day.

“However, confidence continues to be on the lower side of usual, especially late in the period, given the volatility in models seen all week and a still larger spread among the models’ individual members,” Radiant said. “Much of this volatility has been related to the northward expanse of high pressure into Alaska and a still unclear influence an early period cut-off low in the Southwest may have on the pattern.

“Overall, the Northern Tier remains a region of colder variability while much aboves are in the South.”

Meanwhile, Thursday’s Energy Information Administration (EIA) storage report showed a withdrawal that was slightly larger than market expectations, but it wasn’t enough to lift prices. EIA reported a 119 Bcf withdrawal from U.S. gas stocks for the week ending Feb. 2, versus a year-ago withdrawal of 142 Bcf and a five-year average pull of 151 Bcf.

“Disappointment versus recent norms coupled with a tough market led to a lukewarm day for Henry Hub, which traded slightly down,” Tudor, Pickering, Holt & Co. (TPH) analysts told clients Friday. “Next week’s number is setting up for a larger than normal draw on early estimates as HDD forecasts fall back in line with norms and the market shifts to more than 1 Bcf/d undersupplied, weather adjusted.

“However, the East Coast cold snap forecasted on eight- to 14-day weather models last week looks to have shifted to the less populous Midwest, potentially weakening or delaying the last throes of winter demand.”

March crude oil was set to open about 83 cents lower at $60.32/bbl, while March RBOB gasoline was down about 1.8 cents to $1.7473/gal.

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