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Buyers Staring Cold In The Face, Going Lean for March Bidweek

March Bidweek prices were all over the map, with multi-dollar gains posted in the Midwest and multi-dollar losses seen in the Northeast. TheNGI March Bidweek national average was $5.84, down 74 cents from February, but tell that to buyers on the AlgonquinCitygates, who paid the month's highest index at $15.52, down $19.98, or on Tennessee Zone 6 200 L where the March Index was $14.63, down $11.93. Lowest bidweek prices were seen on Transco Leidy, which was $1.91, down $1.43 from February, and Tennessee Zone 4 Marcellus, which was $1.93, down $1.47.

Regionally, the Midwest saw the greatest increase, up $3.13 to $10.91, and the Northeast suffered the greatest loss, down $3.81 to $5.02.

Outside the Northeast, Texas and Louisiana saw losses, but California, the Rocky Mountains and Midcontinent all saw bidweek gains. South Louisiana fell 71 cents to $4.82, and South Texas was off 65 cents to $4.66. East Texas declined 42 cents to $4.83. California bidweek came in at $5.43, up 26 cents, and the Midcontinent rose by 50 cents to $6.18. Rocky Mountain bidweek prices rose by 41 cents to $5.40.

March futures settled at $4.855, down 70.2 cents from February futures settlement.

If the observations of some are correct, Friday's price action indicated that buyers were reluctant to purchase any more gas than they had to at March index, at least in the Midwest and Great Lakes, and they may have been willing to take a chance on lower spot prices as weather presumably moderates and demand subsides.

"The way it traded [Friday] it looked as though they laid back and thought prices would fall off," said a Houston-based marketer working the Chicago Citygates. "There was a lot of day buying and extremely high prices.

"It doesn't strike me as a lot of people who went in and loaded up on [baseload] gas. A number of people are doing daily deals... Pay whatever you have to, to get through the weekend and see what happens." That was the prevailing mentality, according to the marketer.

Others didn't subscribe to the theory that deferring Index-based purchases was that widespread. "If you don't buy Index gas, then you may have the perception that there is cold weather at the beginning of the month and then maybe things will drop after that," said a Houston industry veteran.

"The other rule of thumb is that most people have purchased their winter gas for the entire winter already. They bought a November-March piece of gas. Some may have bought some November-March, some monthly, and the rest is swing.

"Part of the problem they are having in a lot of these areas like Chicago and Consumers is that storage is low. The cupboard is very bare. You can't burn your pilot light on water coming out of a hole."

Nowhere were those problems more in play than in Friday's trading for the weekend only. Buyers were scrambling for supplies for the weekend and Monday 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 in early March incremental trading. Futures were strong with the April contract, rising 9.8 cents to $4.609 and May gaining 7.6 cents to $4.550.

"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," a Houston marketer said.

Longer-term, forecasts Friday were 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 showed 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," said Matt Rogers, president of the firm. "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."

Futures traders were optimistic the Friday's gains portend still higher prices. "I think we've found a bottom here. I think next 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."

Tom Saal of INTL FC Stone in Miami said he was 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 would test $4.075 to $4.062.

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