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Midwest, East Lead Quotes Higher; Futures Struggle

Physical natural gas for Tuesday delivery moved abruptly higher in Monday's trading. A storm ripping across the Mid-Atlantic sent prices in some areas to double-digit dollar gains, but quotes all along the Eastern Seaboard were mostly solidly in the black.

Gas for delivery in and around New York and Philadelphia was particularly strong. Producing areas upstream of the beleaguered Midwest sported multi-dollar gains as well, and California and the Rockies were also strong. At the close of futures trading April was down 11.7 cents to $4.492 and May had fallen 9.5 cents to $4.455. April crude oil vaulted $2.33 to $104.92/bbl.

Prices across the Mid-Atlantic jumped as temperatures were forecast as much as 20 degrees below normal. AccuWeather.com predicted that the high in Boston Monday of 23 would make it to 25 Tuesday and 29 by Wednesday. The normal high for Boston in early March is 42. New York City's Monday high of 23 was predicted to reach 26 on Tuesday and 37 on Wednesday. To the south Philadelphia was anticipated to see its high Monday of 23 rise to 28 Tuesday and jump to 40 on Wednesday.

"The hits from Old Man Winter will keep coming around Washington, DC, into midweek," said AccuWeather.com meteorologist Alex Sosnowski. "In the wake of the snowstorm, temperatures will challenge record lows Tuesday morning over much of the Northeast. AccuWeather [wind chill] temperatures will be below zero at times into Tuesday morning. Highs are forecast to be near 30 on Tuesday and in the 30s on Wednesday, well below the average high in the lower 50s.

"Temperatures will slowly climb during the balance of the week with highs forecast to reach the 50s on Friday and the lower 60s on Saturday, [and] a southern storm system will be monitored for rain and possible wet snow in the local area Thursday."

AccuWeather.com meteorologist Dave Dombek offered one encouraging word, saying that "if it is any consolation to the wintry weather, Tuesday morning is likely to be the coldest morning in the area until next winter."

Gas for delivery Tuesday into Tennessee Zone 6 200 L added $6.24 to $35.06, and gas on Dominion rose $2.14 to $6.68. Deliveries to Tetco M-3 Delivery soared $13.28 to $19.80, and gas bound for New York City on Transco Zone 6 gained a stout $6.03 to $22.78.

Market points with access to the frosty Midwest scored gains as temperatures were forecast to rise but still remain well below seasonal norms. According to AccuWeather.com, the high Monday in Minneapolis of just 9 was forecast to make it to 18 on Tuesday and 22 on Wednesday, well below the normal high of 35. Chicago's Monday maximum of 17 was anticipated to reach 23 on Tuesday and 30 on Wednesday. The normal high in Chicago this time of year is 42. Detroit was about the same. The Motor City's Monday high of 14 was predicted to climb to 22 Tuesday and 29 Wednesday. The seasonal high is 41.

Gas on ANR SW for Tuesday delivery jumped $5.61 to $13.43, and at Demarcation gas came in at $20.15, up $3.20. On Panhandle Eastern Tuesday packages changed hands at $14.54, up $6.82, and on OGT Tuesday gas was $8.36, up $3.00.

At the NGPL Midcontinent Pool Tuesday parcels were seen at $8.63, up $1.72, but on the NGPL Amarillo Line next-day gas rose by $2.56 to a lofty $16.43.

Futures traders saw the market "having a little weight on it" as traders looked forward to more mild conditions. "The fact that the market couldn't hold 'unchanged' caused the market to fail. I think the market is going to struggle to get back to the $4.60 area," said a New York floor trader.

The New York trader didn't cite specific forecasts calling for warmer temperatures, and forecasters continue to call for below and much below normal temperatures for the next two weeks. "Perhaps the biggest story this morning is the stronger intensity of short-term cold for the Midwest, South and East," said Matt Rogers, president of Commodity Weather Group. "Temperatures this morning are in the teens in Dallas with 20s in San Antonio and Houston. Chicago is reporting another subzero low this [Monday] morning, while the East Coast is poised to see at least some rare single-digit lows tomorrow morning after the current storm's passage.

"There is some demand offset, though, as Wednesday-Friday this week look warmer than our prior outlook. And while the pattern is more variable in the six-15 day range, there are still indications (as seen on the model landscape below) that the Midwest, East and South see more cold versus warm weather overall. Keep in mind that climatology warms faster through the month of March, but 2014 is (so far) pacing much colder than last year's March demand levels."

Expectations are for heating requirements to soar. The National Weather Service for the week ended March 8 predicts that New England will shiver under 280 heating degree days (HDD), 49 more than normal, and the Mid-Atlantic states of New York, New Jersey and Pennsylvania will see 273 HDD, or 61 more than the normal tally. The Midwest from Ohio to Wisconsin is predicted to endure 316 HDD, or 93 more than normal.

Risk managers see an opportunity for those with exposure to lower prices to hedge. "[A]fter mid-week, forecasters are predicting temperatures to moderate. It would not be surprising for the natural gas to rebound [this] week, but after the next cold wave passes, we could very well see a pullback to the low $4 level in the summer strip," said Mike DeVooght, president of DEVO Capital Management, a Colorado-based trading and risk management firm."On a trading basis, we would use a rally ($4.60-4.90) in the summer strip as a selling opportunity for producers. The collars, because of the skew to the calls, look especially attractive at this time."

The summer strip settled at $4.579 Friday.

Technical analysts see a strong case for the market to retrace much of the ground it lost when the March contact plummeted $1.28 in just three days prior to the contract's expiration last Wednesday.

"Natty has fallen more than enough to have earned the right to a significant bear market rally back to the upside," said Walter Zimmermann, vice president at United ICAP. "Both the daily spot continuation chart and the April contract chart show a confirmed doji star bottom from the Thursday to Friday price action of last week.

"While we do not expect new spot highs anytime soon, there is plenty of room for a bear market correction higher. The first requirement for a bullish outcome from here is a decisive close above the $4.20 to $4.930 range. If that can be accomplished, then natgas will have room to run higher," he said in a weekly analysis for clients.

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