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Exuberant Cash Market Outshines Lagging Futures

Physical natural gas for Tuesday delivery bounded higher nationally by an average of 21 cents Monday led by dollar-plus gains at some New England points. Even without those points the market soared by an average of 17 cents. Gains were deep and widespread.

Eastern locations were up by a half dollar, and gains of a dime or more were common in the Midwest. Futures dropped on a noon update to weather models. At the close December dropped 4.3 cents to $3.617 and January slid 4.1 cents to $3.667. December crude oil lost 81 cents to $93.03/bbl.

Traders saw much of the day's gains as a result of book squaring and low demand over the weekend. "Saturday's load was three times less, so Saturday thru Sunday increased by 300%. It was just a weekend deal," said a Houston-based Great Lakes trader. "Weekend load got really low because people couldn't balance everything up, and when Monday comes in it is just a natural up day."

"There's a lot going on in the market right now. People are trying to deal with what is going on in the Northeast, and what is going on in the forward markets farther out the curve."

New England and the Northeast saw the greatest gains as temperatures were expected to drop more than 20 degrees in the next 24 hours in major metropolitan areas. AccuWeather.com forecast that Boston's balmy Monday high of 68 would drop to 47 on Tuesday followed by a further drop to 42 on Wednesday. The seasonal high in Boston is 50.  Hartford, CT's Monday high reading of 66 was anticipated to fall to 44 Tuesday more falling to 43 on Wednesday. The seasonal high in Hartford is 50. In Providence, RI Monday's high temperature of 67 was forecast to plunge to 46 Tuesday and fall further to 42 on Wednesday. The nomral mid-November high in Providence is 52.

The National Weather Service in southeast Massachusetts said "a secondary cold front will move across the area late tonight and early Tuesday morning ushering in much colder and blustery conditions across the region. Large high pressure then provides dry...cool and diminishing winds Wednesday and Thursday. A frontal system will bring a chance of mainly rain to start the weekend followed by blustery and sharply colder weather Sunday into Monday."

Higher next-day power prices in the region made it easier for power generators to buy next-day gas. IntercontinentalExchange said Tuesday peak power into the New England ISO's Massachusetts Hub rose $6.23 to $45.56/MWh and next-day power at the PJM West Hub gained $3.40 to $39.28/MWh.

Power loads were also expected to increase. The New England ISO forecast that Monday's peak load of 17,200 MW would rise to 17,450 MW Tuesday.

Gas for Tuesday delivery at the Algonquin Citygates vaulted $1.86 to $5.37 and deliveries to Iroquois Waddington added 40 cents to $4.07. Gas on Tennessee Zone 6 200 L added a stout $1.73 to $5.29.

Eastern points were up a half dollar or more. Gas on Dominion rose 38 cents to $3.29, but deliveries on Transco Leidy gained 51 cents to $3.07. Tuesday gas at Tetco M-3 jumped 57 cents to $3.68, and gas headed for New York City on Transco Zone 6 roared ahead by 69 cents to $3.79.

In the Great Lakes double digit gains were all around. On Alliance Tuesday parcels came in at $3.72, up 11 cents and at the Chicago Citygates gas was up 10 cents to $3.73. On Consumers gas rose by 11 cents to $3.73 and on Michcon next-day gas was higher by 11 cents to $3.74. Packages at Dawn added seven cents to $3.79.

Futures prices softened as noon updates to weather models came in warmer in the longer dated periods. 12ZModelRuns.com in its noon update showed much above normal temperatures, as much as 20 degrees above normal, extending from New England, the Ohio Valley, and into South Texas during days 11 through 16.

Morning weather forecasts, however, continued to turn colder. In its morning six- to 10-day outlook Commodity Weather Group shows below-normal temperatures encompassing the entire country east of the Continental Divide. "The operational models have been consistently favoring a cold high pressure in the Plains by this weekend that is in the lower to sometimes middle 1,050s millibar range," said Matt Rogers, president of the company. "This is very strong, especially for November, suggesting colder risks to our outlook for the primary recipients of this air mass in the Plains, Texas and Midwest starting this weekend and into early next week.

"Strong demand gains in the Nov. 29 EIA week are being offset somewhat by losses in the one-to 5-day as warmer changes are considerable especially in the East and South. Less warm ridging in the West, though, is also offering some increased demand. The 11-to 15-day looks complicated, but the majority of model guidance still favors a general cold-prevailing pattern with lots of variability risks though."

The forecasts of cold weather haven't moved risk managers to waiver from maintaining short hedges for producers. "Normally, the first signs of cold weather (as we had on the East Coast) would give the gas market a nice boost," said Mike DeVooght, president of DEVO Capital, in a weekend report to clients. "But at this time, because of the perception that we have more than adequate supplies even if it gets extremely cold, gas is showing very little inclination to rally. On a trade basis we will continue to hold our short positions."

DeVooght suggests that traders and end-users stand aside the market for right now and those with exposure to lower prices hold on to the balance of a November-March strip initiated earlier at $4.50-4.60.

Tom Saal, vice president at INTL FCStone in Miami, in his work with Market Profile says to look for the market to test last week's value area at $3.570 to $3.648 before moving on and testing a failed auction at $3.705. Saal also sees a test of areas of minus development at $3.181 to $3.828 as potential targets as well. "Minus development shows pricing areas (ranges) with extreme lack of liquidity. As prices re-approach these areas, they act as magnets or targets," he said in a morning note to clients

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