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Futures, Cash Part Company; February Down a Dozen

Next-day gas prices soared on Monday, as a perfect storm of a precipitous forecast drop in temperatures, surging power prices and expected higher power loads all combined to push gas for Tuesday sharply higher.

Prices were up across the board, with points posting hefty gains of about a dime or more in the producing regions and upwards of several dollars in market zones. The overall market advance was 70 cents.

After opening strong, futures headed the other direction largely in sympathy with imploding oil prices. At the close, February was down 12.1 cents to $2.882 and March was off 12.4 cents to $2.875. February crude oil fell $2.65 to $50.04/bbl.

In the Northeast and Mid-Atlantic, multi-dollar gains were the rule as power prices surged and loads were forecast to increase. IntercontinentalExchange reported that next-day peak power at the New York Zone G (eastern New York terminal gained $14.61 to $64.61/MWh, and next-day peak power at the ISO New England's Massachusetts Hub vaulted $28.29 to $77.79/MWh. Tuesday peak power at the PJM West terminal rose $5.05 to $46.81/MWh.

Tuesday deliveries at the Algonquin Citygates surged $2.27 to $9.93, and packages at Iroquois Waddington gained $4.14 to $8.11. Gas on Tennessee Zone 6 200 L rose a stout $3.82 to $9.95.

Gas bound for New York City on Transco Zone 6 rocketed $7.79 to $10.90, and gas on Tetco M-3 rose $3.55 to $5.52.

Power loads were also expected to increase. The New York ISO predicted Monday's peak load of 22,017 MW would reach 22,123 MW Tuesday then rise to 22,979 MW Wednesday. ISO New England forecast that Monday's peak load of 19,100 MW would rise to 20,000 MW Tuesday and 20,520 MW Thursday. The PJM Interconnection expected peak loads Monday of 40,925 MW to jump to 43,197 MW Tuesday before easing ever so slightly to 43,123 MW Wednesday.

Gains were not quite as impressive in the Midwest, but they were solid nonetheless. Tuesday deliveries on Alliance rose 6 cents to $3.27, and parcels at the Chicago Citygates changed hands 8 cents higher at $3.34. At the ANR Joliet Hub gas came in 11 cents highe to $3.35, and packages on Michcon were seen 6 cents higher at $3.17. On Consumers, Tuesday gas rose 12 cents to $3.26.

Gulf points gained more than the Midwest. Gas on ANR SE rose by 16 cents to $3.13, and parcels on Transco Zone 3 were up 13 cents also to $3.14. At the Henry Hub, Tuesday volumes were quoted at $3.21, up 22 cents, and on Tennessee 500 L gas rose 15 cents to $3.11. Deliveries to Katy advanced 7 cents to $3.09.

Weather forecasters are calling for temperatures to be well below normal for the week.

"A wave of low pressure will move across the central third of the country on Monday, while an onshore flow will persist over the Northwest," said Wunderground.com meteorologist Kari Strenfel.

"An arctic high-pressure system will sink southeastward over the Midwest and the Ohio Valley, [and] temperatures will be 20-30 degrees below normal across the region. In addition, moderate to heavy snow showers will develop over the upper Midwest and the Great Lakes. Just to the east, scattered snow showers will linger over parts of the interior Mid-Atlantic and New England as a strong low-pressure system slides over Eastern Canada."

In the West, "a low-pressure system is forecast to move east-southeastward over the upper intermountain West and the northern Plains,” she said. “Heavy snow showers will impact the northern Rockies, and moderate snow showers will develop across the northern Plains.

“High pressure will remain in place across the Southwest, keeping conditions clear across the desert Southwest, the Great Basin and the southern Rockies on Monday.”

According to Wunderground.com, the Monday high in Boston of 50 was expected to plunge to 22 Tuesday and hit 28 Wednesday. The normal high in Boston in early January is 36. Philadelphia's Monday maximum of 47 was predicted to drop to 26 Tuesday and Wednesday, 14 degrees below the seasonal norm. Chicago's 11-degree high on Monday was anticipated to reach 16 by Tuesday before falling to a chilly 4 degrees Wednesday. The normal high in Chicago is 32.

The National Weather Service forecasts a big jump in heating requirements this week. The Greater Midwest from Ohio to Wisconsin is expected to shiver under 381 heating degree days (HDD), 88 more than normal. New England is forecast to endure 286 HDD, seven more than normal, and the Mid-Atlantic should see 279 HDD, or 19 more than its seasonal tally.

Futures traders saw much of Monday’'s decline in futures as being in sympathy with the crumbling petroleum complex. However the Canadian cold pouring into the nation's mid-section isn't expected to last forever.

"We expect very cold temperatures to cover the northern U.S. through Saturday or Sunday with anomalies 18-35 degrees F colder than normal, resulting in very strong heating demand," said Natgasweather.com in a Monday afternoon update.

"However, we still expect milder Pacific weather systems to arrive after January 10th, which will break the cold's grip as extreme Arctic temperatures are forced to retreat into Canada.  There will likely be very cold air to return over Southern Canada around Jan. 15-16, which will have an opportunity to push into the northern U.S. 

“However, the data is struggling on just how much cold air will arrive and also how far into the US it would be able to push."

In spite of the day's free fall, risk managers are looking for a short-term advance.

"On a trading basis, the gas market has been weaker than we anticipated," said DEVO Capital President Mike DeVooght. “It's difficult to say if the weakness has been overdone because of mild weather, the weakness in the [oil] complex, or us underestimating the appetite for the funds being short the gas market. But looking forward, we feel the gas market should be well supported at the $3.00 level, and we think there is a good chance of rebounding to the $3.40-3.50 level. Therefore, we will maintain our long positions at this time."

DeVooght suggested that trading accounts and end-users both hold long February $4.20 call options against the sale of $3.90 February puts.

Tom Saal, vice president at INTL FC Stone in Miami, in his work with Market Profile has identified pricing targets given various winter weather scenarios. "Price volatility is still very much alive in the natural gas futures market," he told clients.

Saal expects the market to test a value area between $3.304 and $4.041, then $4.114 and $4.414. "If winter fails to materialize, maybe test $2.143 to $1.949."

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