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Mixed Market Posts Overall Gains; Futures Unable to Break $3

Quotes for weekend and Monday gas were widely varied in Friday's trading with large advances at New England points along with widespread gains across the Gulf Coast offsetting weakness in the Marcellus, Midwest and Rockies.

New England was expected to see a weekend cold snap along with high wind chills, and the overall market gain was 17 cents. Futures were unable to trade above the psychologically important $3 level but did manage to post limited gains for the session. At the close February was 1.9 cents higher at $2.946 and March had added 2.2 cents to $2.947. February crude oil fell 43 cents to $48.36/bbl.

New England posted multi-dollar gains as forecasters called for temperatures to drop Saturday along with bone-rattling wind. Wunderground.com reported that Hanover, NH's Friday high of 25 degrees was forecast fall to 16 Saturday but reach 33 by Monday. The normal high in Hanover for early January is 23. Boston's Friday high of 29 was seen dropping to 21 Saturday with winds of 10 to 16 mph before making it back up to 35 Monday. The seasonal high in Boston is 36. Residents of Hartford, CT, should see their Friday high of 33 drop to 20 by Saturday before climbing back to 33 Monday. The normal early January high in Hartford is 32.

Weekend and Monday gas at the Algonquin Citygates changed hands at $10.02, up $2.27, and deliveries to Iroquois Waddington were seen $2.68 higher at $8.11. On Tennessee Zone 6 200 L gas jumped $2.30 to $9.76.

Prices were mixed in the Mid-Atlantic. Gas bound for New York City on Transco Zone 6 vaulted $2.71 to $11.35, but deliveries to Tetco M-3 shed $1.35 to $5.19.

In the Marcellus quotes came in lower. Gas for weekend and Monday delivery on Millennium fell 18 cents to $1.65, and packages at Transco Leidy fell 26 cents to $1.31. Gas at Tennessee Zone 4 Marcellus was seen 16 cents lower at $1.48, and on Dominion South parcels changed hands at $1.58, down 36 cents.

Expected weather over the weekend varied for the different market zones. The National Weather Service (NWS) in southeast Massachusetts said an "Arctic front will move through the region tonight [Friday] bringing cold, dry weather to the region tomorrow lasting into Sunday. Another cold front will move through New England Monday followed by high pressure and dry cool weather midweek."

To the south the Mid-Atlantic was seen buffeted by a series of high-pressure systems. NWS in New York City forecast that "high pressure over the middle section of the country builds east into the Tennessee and Ohio valleys by Saturday. The high then builds off the middle Atlantic Coast Saturday night and continues out to sea on Sunday. Weak low pressure will pass to the north on Monday, dragging a cold front across the area. Strong high pressure then builds from the northern plains through the middle of the week, [and] a coastal storm may impact the area at the end of the week."

Monday peak power prices tumbled. According to IntercontinentalExchange, Monday peak power at the eastern New York ISO Zone G fell $24.05 to $60.95/MWh and packages at the PJM West terminal skidded $12.79 to $40.01/MWh.

Midwest market zones along with producing regions saw prices weaken. Gas for weekend and Monday delivery on Alliance shed 7 cents to $3.07, and deliveries to the ANR Joliet Hub fell 8 cents to $3.07. Gas at the Chicago Citygates skidded 11 cents to $3.06, and on Consumers was seen off 2 cents at $3.04. Deliveries to Michcon added 9 cents to $3.04.

Prices at Rocky Mountain points were mostly lower. At the Cheyenne Hub, weekend and Monday parcels fell 3 cents to $2.82, and gas on CIG Mainline gave up 2 cents to $2.78. At Opal gas changed hands at $2.81, flat, but gas on Northwest Pipeline WY rose 1 cent to $2.77.

Weather forecasts looking out to the 11- to 15-day period see a cold, warm, cold scenario developing. Commodity Weather Group in its Friday morning report said the overnight model runs "added some demand compared to yesterday's outlook especially for early to middle next week across the Midwest and East during the colder side of the pattern before the bigger warmer shift commences. The models continue to struggle during this transition period as big chunks of remnant cold interact with increased jet stream energy, offering some winter storm risks next week.

"Despite the net colder changes, the bigger 11-15 day warm-up is still progressing forward with day 10 now featuring widespread above to much above normal temperatures from the Midwest to Tennessee Valley all the way into the West," said Matt Rogers, president of the firm. "That warming still dominates the East in the 11-15 day with good model agreement and warmer risks, but the models still rebuild eastern Pacific to Gulf of Alaska ridging that sets the stage for colder changes later in the 11-15 day, which like last time, should go more into the West before coming east."

Top traders are in a "sell the rally" mode. "[Thursday's] trade provided some mixed signals, but we saw nothing that would alter our bearish bias. While the approximate 6-7 cent price advance off of the EIA release appeared appropriate, the lack of counter-intuitive response to the number suggests a market that will likely test the $3 mark one time during the next couple of sessions," said Jim Ritterbusch of Ritterbusch and Associates in closing comments Thursday.

"The 131 Bcf withdrawal was roughly 10 Bcf larger than the average street expectation. Nonetheless, the supply deficit against five-year average levels has now shrunk to a mere 2%, or just 67 Bcf. While next week's release will disrupt this dynamic of deficit contraction, we feel that a surplus against normal levels will be established early next month. Meanwhile, year-over-year comparisons are looking more bearish as a 250 Bcf overhang against last year will be providing a significant cushion to this week's extreme cold. While temps are expected to remain below normal next week, deviations from usual are expected to be small.

"Furthermore, some outlooks are beginning to take on a neutral/slightly bearish appearance across the second half of this month. So while short-term temperature views will continue to rule over the near term, we also believe that a near-record production pace will be reducing the impact of the weather factor once the winter approaches its mid-point. We still see price advances much above the $3 mark as unsustainable. We are allowing for a brief price spike to as high as $3.10-3.15 if upcoming weekend temperature views lean back toward the cold side. However, such a rally should be viewed as a new selling opportunity."

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