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Northeast Leads Broad Retreat; Futures Holding $3

There was little interest Friday in committing to weekend and Monday deals, and prices fell hard and fell often.

Weather forecasts called for a rising trend in temperatures throughout the weekend, and Monday power prices and power loads weakened. Multi-dollar drops were common at New England points, and greater-than-20-cent losses were common from the Marcellus to the Midwest to California. Overall, the market tumbled 52 cents.

Futures prices gravitated lower as longer-dated weather forecasts turned warmer, although observers were encouraged that the market held $3 under heavy trading. At the close, February had dropped 3.1 cents to $3.127 after trading as low as $3.024 and March was down 3.4 cents to $3.087. February crude oil rallied $2.44 to $48.69/bbl.

Weekend and Monday gas was hit the hardest at New England locations as forecasters called for a weekend temperature drop followed by temperatures reaching above normal by Monday. AccuWeather.com forecast that Boston's high of 38 degrees Friday would slide to 21 Saturday before climbing to 42 Monday, 7 degrees above normal. Other eastern points also were expected to experience a trend of rising temperatures. Philadelphia's 43 high Friday was seen dropping to 32 Saturday and reaching 42 by Monday. The seasonal high Monday is 40. Richmond, VA's 52 high on Friday was forecast to ease to 43 by Saturday and make it to 51 by Monday. The normal high in Richmond is 47.

Gas for delivery over the weekend and Monday at the Algonquin Citygates shed $5.92 to $7.68, and gas on Iroquois Waddington was seen 93 cents lower at $5.98. Gas on Tennessee Zone 6 200 L tumbled $4.50 to $8.90.

Gas headed for New York City on Transco Zone 6 skidded $1.62 to $4.98, and deliveries to Tetco M-3 changed hands $1.77 lower at $3.43.

In the Marcellus, price declines were closer to the broader declines observed to the west. Deliveries to Transco Leidy fell 17 cents to $1.06, and gas on Tennessee Zone 4 Marcellus gave up 19 cents also to $1.12. On Dominion South weekend and Monday packages dropped 33 cents to $1.71.

Meteorologists predicted that temperatures would warm later in the weekend along the Eastern Seaboard. "The cold to start this weekend will give way to a milder, but wet Sunday as arctic air takes a break," said AccuWeather.com meteorologist Kristina Pydynowski.

"The coldest air in about a week will descend across the New York City area on Saturday, holding temperatures to the upper 20s despite sunshine. Saturday's high, actually, will be recorded after sunset as the frigid dome of high pressure shifts eastward and opens the door for milder air to start pouring in Saturday night. Temperatures will continue to rise through Sunday, reaching a high in the lower to middle 40s, [but] a high in the upper 30s is more common this time of year."

Power loads and prices declined as well. IntercontinentalExchange reported that Monday peak power at the New York ISO Zone G (eastern New York) fell $44.30 to $50.80/MWh and peak deliveries Monday to the PJM West terminal fell $5.58 to $36.35/MWh.

Typically, power loads over a weekend decrease, but in New York Monday loads were forecast to be lighter than Friday's. The New York ISO predicted Friday's peak load would reach 22,104 MW, but Monday's peak was seen reaching only 21,349 MW. Across the broad PJM footprint, however, Friday's peak load of 39,378 MW was expected to reach 40,547 MW Monday.

Western locations were not able to escape the selling either. Gas at the Cheyenne Hub shed 28 cents to $2.80, and deliveries to CIG Mainline fell 23 cents to $2.80 also. Gas at Opal came in 26 cents lower at $2.81, and deliveries to Northwest Pipeline WY were quoted down 23 cents to $2.78.

At the PG&E Citygates weekend and Monday deliveries were seen 23 cents lower at $3.28, and gas at the SoCal Citygates fell 28 cents to $3.10. At the SoCal Border gas dropped 26 cents to $2.95, and on El Paso S Mainline gas changed hands at $2.95, down 28 cents.

Futures bulls were handed a slight setback when overnight weather models moderated. WSI Corp. in both its six- to 10 and 11- to 15-day outlook showed a lesser influx of cold. "[Friday's] 11-15 day period forecast also backed off on the magnitude of the cold weather that is still anticipated during the end of the month. Forecast confidence is about average as medium-range models are in reasonably good agreement with the large-scale pattern, despite the technical differences during the six-10 day period," the forecaster said.

"Despite today's upward revision, the expected EPO [Eastern Pacific Oscillation] like pattern supports a risk back to the colder side across the eastern two thirds of the nation."

Analysts saw changing weather outlooks as one of the ingredients in Thursday's post-Energy Information Administration storage report sell-off. "Compared to the overnight run, the midday weather models reflected a much warmer outlook for next week, with a notable absence of below-normal temperatures," said Teri Viswanath, director of natural gas strategy at BNP Paribas. The more moderate weather outlook appeared to offer traders a reasonable excuse to partially unwind the week-to-date rally.

"With roughly half the winter ahead, the dimming prospects of a January thaw have stalled the natural gas sell-off. Moderate heating demand, coupled with strong production growth, enabled the industry to record the lightest December inventory withdrawals in three decades -- a development that seemingly increased the odds of running out of storage next summer. Yet the colder weather pattern unfolding this month suggests to us that there still might be time for the industry to sufficiently pare inventory levels by the end of the season," Viswanath said.

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