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Futures Out of 'Bullish Ammunition,' Settle Lower on the Week

Following repeated failed attempts to bust out to the upside earlier in the week, exhausted traders were comfortable with doing not much of anything in quiet trading on Friday. After trading lower in the overnight Thursday Globex session, December natural gas maintained a slim 14-cent range Friday before closing at $7.794, down 16.1 cents on the day and 9 cents lower than the previous week's close.

"It appeared that trading was light on Friday," said Citigroup analyst Tim Evans, who noted that the Veteran's Day holiday Saturday and the wild trading earlier in the week could have had something to do with the inaction. "It is getting tougher to identify what is truly light volume because Globex electronic trading is taking up more of the total daily volume," he said. "However, the 2 p.m. estimated volume for natural gas was 12,267, so I think that qualifies as light, even if we figure Globex did double that volume."

Addressing the four failed attempts over the last two weeks at getting above and staying above $8, Evans said, "This has been a market that has been trying to go higher, but can't. Now, we have sort of run through most of...if not all of our bullish ammunition here. We have had our cold snaps and we have had our withdrawals from storage, but we haven't been able to translate that into any kind of sustained rally. Now we face the prospect of warmer than normal temperatures and probably some builds in storage. There is not a whole lot of gas demand out there."

Evans pointed out that the behavior of natural gas futures Friday really contrasted with the activity in petroleum futures. "The steep declines in the petroleum sector on the day almost made natural gas look solid in comparison because we opened lower and just sat there," he said. December crude finished Friday $1.57 lower at $59.59/bbl.

As for the next move for natural gas futures, Evans said the downside seems inviting. "It looks like the downside is pretty wide open here, possibly well into December. There is not a lot of cold in the forecasts for the rest of November. When we get to December, we will be comparing to the intense cold experienced in December 2005, so we most certainly will look bearish when compared to that."

After the release of a bullish inventory report Thursday morning showing a greater-than-expected 7 Bcf withdrawal, some traders surmised that the 3,445 Bcf might be a little on the thin side. "The market is sensitive to changes in temperature," said Phil Flynn of Alaron Trading Corp. "It seems to suggest the market isn't absolutely convinced that supplies will be adequate through a long, cold winter."

Recent weather forecasts have temporarily allayed those concerns. According to AccuWeather, the coming week will be very stormy, mainly in the Northwest, and also from the Mississippi Valley to the Eastern Seaboard. But, persistent cold will be lacking with the exception of a shot into the interior of the nation, and the East will remain mild until Wednesday. Cold air in time will become an important player, increasing the chance for "significant snow across the Upper Midwest." the forecaster said. The continuation of stormy weather in the Pacific Northwest will be the biggest concern, where more heavy rain could further aggravate the current flood situation.

High temperatures in New York City Monday are anticipated to reach 53, but rise to 60 by Thursday. The normal high this time of year in New York is 55. In Chicago temperatures are forecast to be slightly below seasonal norms. Monday's high is expected to be 50 but drops to 46 by Thursday. The normal high this time of year in the Windy City is 51. So far both cities are slightly below normal in their tally of November heating degree days. New York has recorded 121, slightly below a normal pace of 126, and Chicago has seen 174, just below a normal 177.

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