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Screen Dive Seen Reversing Cash Advances

Anticipated colder weather arrived on schedule as advertised over the weekend and, coupled with Friday's gain of a little more than a quarter in natural gas futures and the return of industrial load from its usual weekend hiatus, was able to generate double-digit price gains at nearly all points Monday.

Only one uptick of a little less than a dime averted an across the board sweep of price increases of 10 cents or more. Otherwise gains ranged from about 15 cents to a little more than 55 cents. They were distributed fairly evenly across geographic market areas, although the largest ones tended to be concentrated in the Northeast, where the worst of the new surge of winter weather is occurring.

The burst of cash price firmness is likely to be brief, however, after Friday's screen support was transformed into a 61.8-cent plunge by the March contract Monday.

Heavy lake-effect snows and blustery winds will continue to keep furnaces cranked up Tuesday in the Northeast, The Weather Channel (TWC) said. Snowfalls are expected to be relatively light in the Midwest, but parts of both it and the Northeast should see daily highs in the teens near the Canadian border, according to TWC. The South cooled off over the weekend but should be considerably milder than the northern regions with highs only sinking into the 40s. Temperatures will remain below freezing in the Rockies, but generally the West is expected to be above seasonal norms with highs in the 80s predicted for parts of the desert Southwest.

A new price rally in the near futures probably would require that the weather get quite a bit colder and more expansive, and for such conditions to be sustained, one source said. Even then, a rally might not be possible because people would probably want to use their abundant storage rather than pay higher prices again, he added.

A Gulf Coast producer said his company's futures analyst is looking for a "down, down and down" screen performance Tuesday -- in other words, essentially a repeat of Monday. And cash numbers also will be lower, the producer said. The market is not seeing all that much extra heating load, he said; "a little bit more" than last week but not really a big deal. Monday's major weakness at Nymex should outweigh the lower temperatures that are coming along this week, he said. Overall both the physical and futures sides of the market are still bearish, he concluded.

"It's nice to watch the market drift down," said a Southwest utility buyer, referring to the big drop in March futures. He looks for downward price pressure to continue over the next three months from the lack of weather load and the urgency to empty storage accounts before withdrawal season ends. Also, western prices should feel extra negative influence due to the "robust" hydropower situation in the Pacific Northwest, he said. He reported that his company has almost no load at all currently with daily highs around 80 degrees.

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