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Cold Surge Spurs East, Northeast NatGas Market Gains; Futures Add A Nickel

Continued surging next-day power prices and ongoing forecasts of bone-rattling cold at major market centers kept a firm bid under next-day gas prices in the Northeast, Mid-Atlantic and Great Lakes on Tuesday.

The outsized market center gains were more than able to offset broad weakness extending from the Gulf Coast, Midcontinent, Rockies and California. The overall market advance tallied 46 cents to average $4.17. Futures managed to stage a modest rebound in the face of another collapse in oil prices. February settled at $2.938, up 5.6 cents, and March added 4.9 cents to $2.924. February crude oil continued its march with destiny, dropping $2.11 to $47.93/bbl, the lowest in more than five and a half years.

Next-day gas in the Midwest and Great Lakes rose as high temperatures were forecast to remain in single digits, about 25 degrees below normal. AccuWeather.com predicted that the high in Minneapolis Tuesday of 9 would drop to minus 1 Wednesday before "recovering" to 13 on Thursday. The normal high in Minneapolis is 23. Chicago's Tuesday high of 13 was anticipated to fall to 4 Wednesday and make it back to 12 Thursday, 20 degrees below normal. Detroit's Tuesday high of 21 was expected to drop to 13 Wednesday and continue falling reaching 11 on Thursday. The seasonal high in the Motor City is 32.

Gas for delivery Wednesday on Alliance gained 5 cents to $3.32, and parcels at the ANR Joliet Hub gained 6 cents to $3.41. Deliveries to the Chicago Citygates added 22 cents to $3.56.

Outside Midwest market zones, next-day gas prices eased. Deliveries on ANR SW shed 12 cents to $3.10, and gas on Northern Natural Ventura was off by a nickel to $3.66. At Demarcation, parcels for Wednesday were seen 8 cents lower at $3.60.

Forecasters don't see much relief in sight for the Midwest. "The cold wave that hit the Midwest early this week will stretch through the weekend, sending temperatures plummeting to dangerously low levels," said AccuWeather.com's Jillian MacMath.

"Very windy conditions will persist for the next couple of days, making the temperatures feel even colder than actual. [Wind chill] temperatures Wednesday could be as low as minus 20F, with actual temperatures in the low single digits at times. The normal high for early January is around the 30-degree mark. Another chance for snow showers could arrive Thursday afternoon and evening, though little, if any, accumulation is forecast. The end of the weekend will bring the first signs of relief for the city [Chicago] as temperatures climb into the 20s again."

Not to be outdone, eastern market centers posted multi-dollar gains as peak next-day power prices rocketed higher. IntercontinentalExchange reported that peak power Wednesday at the ISO New York Zone G (eastern New York) jumped $60.57 to $125.18/MWh and peak deliveries Wednesday at the ISO New England's Massachusetts Hub added a stout $30.73 to $168.52/MWh. Peak power at the PJM West terminal added $36.16 to $82.97/MWh.

Deliveries to the Algonquin Citygates surged $2.94 to $12.87, and gas into Iroquois Waddington rose by $3.58 to $11.69. On Tennessee Zone 6 200 L Wednesday packages changed hands at $11.98, up $2.03.

Some of the day's greatest gains were seen in the Mid-Atlantic as gas headed for New York City on Transco Zone 6 rose $7.00 to $17.90, and packages on Tetco M-3 bounded higher by a whopping $7.03 to $12.55.

ISO New York forecast increasing loads for New York City and the state as a whole. Peak load in New York City Tuesday of 7,138 MW was seen rising to 7,243 MW Wednesday and 7,289 MW Thursday. New York state peak power Tuesday of 22,210 MW was anticipated to rise to 23,098 MW Wednesday and 23,270 MW Thursday.

PJM Interconnection anticipated peak load Tuesday of 43,339 MW would rise to 45,162 MW Wednesday before easing to 44,116 MW Thursday.

At the end of the day, Rockies points had given up much, if not all, of the premium they had earlier held relative to the Henry Hub. Henry Hub gas settled at $2.96, down 25 cents, and gas quoted on CIG Mainline was seen down 23 cents to $3.00. At the Cheyenne Hub, Wednesday parcels came in at $3.04, down 18 cents, and gas on Northwest Pipeline WY tumbled 26 cents to $2.91. Gas at Opal fell 25 cents to $2.95, and deliveries to El Paso Non-Bondad skidded 34 cents to $2.95.

At the beginning of the day's trading, futures analysts were seeing something of a chance the market could advance following Monday's sharp reversal. Tim Evans of Citi Futures Perspective in closing comments Monday said, "The market may still have a chance to work higher again as the colder seasonal temperatures are likely to translate into larger storage withdrawals in the weeks ahead. In fact, even Thursday's storage report for the week ended Jan. 2 may show a draw of 122 Bcf, the largest decline since the week ended Nov. 21. Current temperature forecasts suggest even stronger levels of heating demand for this week and next week.

"While we see enough heating demand and storage withdrawals in the weeks ahead to justify some recovery in natural gas prices from current levels, we have to admit that the comparisons with five-year average storage flows will still look at least somewhat bearish, with the 81 Bcf year-on-five-year average storage deficit as of Dec. 26 shrinking to 17 Bcf as of Jan. 23.

"This declining deficit confirms that the U.S. natural gas market continues to become better supplied on seasonally adjusted basis, which is typically bearish for prices over the intermediate term. In this context, we'd view a price rally as an upward correction within what may still be a bearish trend."

Evans recommended working a buy stop at $3.23 basis the February contract as a trigger to enter the market on the long side. He then suggested a sell stop at $2.97 to limit risk on the trade.

Overnight Monday, weather markets moderated slightly. WSI Corp. in its Tuesday morning report said, "[Tuesday's] six-10 day period forecast is not as cold as previous forecasts due to the day shift. However, day-to day-temps did run colder over the southern U.S.

"Forecast confidence is average today as medium-range models are in modest agreement with the transitional pattern. There are some key technical differences and uncertainty during the end of the period. The potential change with the Pacific pattern toward a positive PNA supports a risk to the colder side across the South and East Coast. The Northwest, northern Rockies and northern Plains have a slight risk to the warmer side."

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