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Midwest Prices Skyrocket as Buyers Stock Up for Weekend

Spot prices for gas for delivery for the weekend and Monday vaulted higher Friday, led by gains in the Midwest and Great Lakes. Buyers were scrambling for supplies as weather-driven prices on pipelines serving the frozen tundra of Minnesota, Wisconsin and Michigan posted double-digit dollar gains.

A few points in the Marcellus and East saw losses, but by and large any market point with connections to the Midwest saw sizeable gains. Futures were strong, with the April contract rising 9.8 cents to $4.609 and May gaining 7.6 cents to $4.550. April crude oil added 19 cents to $102.59/bbl.

"We had a lot of day buying [Friday]. Prices were extremely strong," said a Houston-based marketer serving the Chicago Citygates. He remarked that some of the day's buying was because traders waited and did not buy March baseload gas. "Pay whatever you have to to get through the weekend and see what happens." That was the prevailing mentality, according to the marketer.

"We've heard indications that storage in the Upper Midwest is running dry. The only gas that can serve places like Minneapolis-St. Paul has to come from Northern Natural Ventura or Northern Border Ventura, and that has to be priced above Chicago Citygates."

Those pipelines came in about $9 higher than the Chicago Citygates in Friday's trading. Quotes on Alliance were up by $18.45 at $44.05, and deliveries on Northern Natural Ventura jumped $19.68 to $43.59. Gas on Northern Border Ventura rose $22.84 to $46.69, and weekend and Monday gas at the Chicago Citygates came in at $36.27, $17.77 higher.

Pipelines in the Midcontinent with access to the Midwest also enjoyed healthy gains. Gas on ANR SW rose $2.21 to $7.82, and deliveries on Panhandle Eastern jumped $2.40 to $7.72. Gas on the NGPL Amarillo Line rose by $5.39 to $13.87.

AccuWeather.com forecast that Friday's high in Minneapolis of 14 degrees would dive to 1 on Saturday before recovering slightly to 9 by Monday. The seasonal high in Minneapolis is 34. Chicago's forecast isn't all that much warmer. Friday's high of 25 was seen holding through Saturday before sliding to 18 on Monday. The normal high in Chicago in early March is 41.

Those attending a Saturday hockey game outdoors at Chicago's Soldier Field will have to deal not only with cold but also wind and snow as well. "Temperatures for the game are forecast to slowly drop through the teens, but a northerly breeze will result in [wind chill] temperatures near zero," said Brian Lada, AccuWeather.com meteorologist.

"These temperatures are beneficial for playing conditions as the idea ice surface temperature for an NHL rink is 22 degrees Fahrenheit, according to NHL.com. Snow will be a bigger issue, however, as it moves in Saturday afternoon and continues through the night. Snow will continue through much of Sunday before ending in the afternoon, but the cold weather will stick around into the new week. Highs on Sunday and Monday will be in the upper teens with lows in the single digits, [but] temperatures are expected to slowly rise throughout next week, reaching the 30s once again by Thursday."

Weekend and Monday gas in the Northeast was mostly higher, but gas to eastern locations fell. At the Algonquin Citygates packages rose $1.25 to $32.57, and gas into Iroquois Waddington rose $6.51 to $32.38. On Tennessee Zone 6 200 L gas was seen 7 cents lower at $29.27.

Gas bound for the weekend and Monday to New York City on Transco Zone 6 fell $3.13 to $16.75, and on Dominion gas changed hands at $4.54, down 2 cents. On Tetco M-3 delivery weekend and next-day parcels tumbled $5.12 to $6.52.

Futures traders are optimistic the day's gains portend still higher prices. "I think we've found a bottom here. I think [this] week we'll trade in a 25 cent range between here and $4.85," said a New York floor trader. "It seems to me we'll be below normal temperature-wise, and I don't see the market coming off for the next week and a half."

Longer-term forecasts are beginning to show some slight attenuation to the relentless cold. Temperatures are still expected to be well below normal, but not quite as much so. Commodity Weather Group in its morning six- to 10-day outlook shows a broad expanse of below and much below normal temperatures across the eastern two-thirds of the country.

"Impressive cold is still noted for the one- to five-day period with strong below-normal period anomalies covering from the Midwest to Western Canada. A late weekend into Monday storm system has trended colder for the eastern Midwest and East also," Matt Rogers, president of the firm, said Friday. "But a combination of forecast progression and some moderation is trending the six- to 10-day [period] warmer for the Midwest and East although both areas are still in the much-below category.

"The 11-15 day is even shakier today with the American ensembles showing another cold outbreak early to mid-period, but the European guidance trending faster toward a flatter warm flow situation. We favored a middle route between the guidance. Last night's European weeklies also trended the second week of March warmer with colder risks returning for the second half of the month."

Tom Saal of INTL FC Stone in Miami said he is getting "mixed signals from the back years: Cal'15, Cal'17 & Cal'19. In his work with Market Profile, he was looking for the market to test value areas at $4.546 to $4.496 before moving on and testing $4.175 to $4.159. He said "maybe" the market will test $4.075 to $4.062.

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