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Old Man Winter Hasn't Left Yet; February Called 10 Cents Higher

February natural gas is expected to open 10 cents higher Wednesday morning at $2.93 as the near-term temperature outlook now calls for cooler temperatures over key eastern and Midwest energy markets. Overnight oil markets rose.

Overnight weather forecasts turned cooler. WSI Corp. in its six- to 10-day outlook shows below-normal temperatures extending from New England to the Mid-Atlantic and as far west as Ohio. "[Tuesday's] forecast is colder than the past forecast over the eastern two-thirds of the nation due to the day shift. However, temps did trend a bit warmer most days across the central U.S.," the forecaster said.

"Forecast confidence is about average as medium-range models are in reasonably good agreement with the large-scale pattern. However, there are still plenty of localized and technical differences. The risk may be to the colder side over the eastern half of the nation due to an amplified and/or EPO [Eastern Pacific Oscillation] like pattern, as well as a potential East Coast storm."

Below-normal temperatures to one person might not be below-normal to someone else. Next Monday's temperatures across the East are not expected to be of the bone-rattling variety. Wunderground.com forecasts that Monday's high in Boston will be 30, which is 5 degrees below normal, and next week's high temperatures in New York City are seen right around 30, 8 degrees below normal. Pittsburgh's next Monday high of 32 comes in 6 degrees below normal.

Despite the near-term outlook for "cooler" temperatures and supportive prices, analysts see a bearish flavor to the market as the weather factor gradually loses its impact.

"[Monday's] approximate 9% price decline that came in addition to the 10-cent selloff during the last half of last week underscores a heavy trading environment in which seasonal factors are slowly beginning to shift," said Jim Ritterbusch of Ritterbusch and Associates in closing comments Monday. "This market is usually the most sensitive to cold weather forecasts during its anticipatory phase as was evidenced through most of last month. But with January ready to close out at the end of next week, it is becoming apparent that cold weather forecasts will be losing pricing punch and that normal weather expectations will be viewed as bearish given a near record pace of production.

"While we are not seeing many expectations favoring above-normal trends during the next couple of weeks across the eastern half of the U.S., the arctic air expected to move into the Midcontinent a week ago has been taken off the table. Consequently, an end-of-quarter supply that will provide a base for the beginning of the injection cycle is apt to develop north of the 1.7 Tcf level in our opinion. This will increase commercial selling interest while at the same time, encouraging speculators to sit tight on a sizable net short position.

"Regarding Thursday's EIA storage report, our expected 225 Bcf storage withdrawal appears to be about 4-5 Bcf larger than preliminary average Street expectations. However, another counter intuitive response to a seemingly supportive figure could easily be forthcoming as short-term temperature forecasts continue to be prioritized. We are still bearish anticipating a price decline to the $2.60 area."

In overnight Globex trading March crude oil added 45 cents to $46.92/bbl and March RBOB gasoline gained 2 cents to $1.3591/gal.

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