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NatGas Forwards Unimpressed by Recent Weather; March Opens Sluggish

Natural gas forwards markets remained unimpressed last week with recent weather systems hitting the Midwest and Northeast, with the February package barely budging at most market hubs as it slid off the board, and March sluggishly took over the prompt month position.

Most market hubs shifted within five cents between Monday and Wednesday, when the Nymex February futures contract expired some 11.5 cents lower at $2.866/MMBtu.

It was the same story for the March package, which assumed the prompt month position Thursday, the same day futures tumbled some 12.3 cents after the U.S. Energy Information Administration reported a smaller-than-expected withdrawal from storage.

There were a few exceptions, however. The Algonquin Gas Transmission Citygates continued to post substantial declines even as parts of the region remain buried under several inches of snow.

Ample liquefied natural gas supplies in the region and softening demand after another brief spike next week are credited for the ongoing downturn in basis there.

Algonquin February basis tumbled $1.108 between Monday and Wednesday to reach plus $7.505/MMBtu, while March basis plunged 47 cents from Monday to Thursday to reach plus $3.609/MMBtu, according to NGI’s Forward Look.

Current demand projections by Genscape show New England demand peaking at 4.22 Bcf/d on Tuesday but then sliding to 3.48 Bcf/d by Friday and averaging around 3.435 Bcf/d for the second week of February.

The maximum demand ever recorded in New England is 4.04 Bcf/d, which was set earlier this month on Jan. 7, according to Genscape.

At the other end of the spectrum, February basis in the New York market was unusually strong as the prospect of back-to-back weather systems was enough to spook the market.

Transco zone 6-New York February basis surged 60.8 cents between Monday and Wednesday to reach plus $6.538/MMBtu, while March slipped 1.6 cents to plus 39.2 cents/MMBtu.

“February is cold for the first two weeks,” a Northeast trader said. “This may be the only place that has concentrated cold in February.”

Forecasters with NatGasWeather show the first weather system tracking through the Northeast Friday with areas of rain and snow and sub-freezing temperatures following Saturday.

“There will be a brief break before the next cold blast quickly follows Sunday into Monday, although with a bit greater success spilling cooler conditions into the Plains and South,” NatGasWeather said. “In addition, there will be a fairly wet weather system streaming up from Baja with heavy showers for the Southwest and Texas, and when combined with the cooler northern U.S. blast, they will bring overall colder than normal temperatures to many high natgas use regions of the central and eastern U.S. Monday and Tuesday.”

Additional cold blasts will follow, with the most extreme temperatures remaining over the Great Lakes and Northeast.

“A few of these weather systems are fairly intimidating and will bring some very cold temperatures where lows will drop into the single digits and below zero, which will certainly drive periods of much stronger heating demand over some high population Midwest and Northeast cities,” according to NatGasWeather.

Meanwhile, production in the region remains strong.

Total East production the past seven days is about 140 MMcf/d above the 30-day average and about 300 MMcf/d off from December levels, according to Genscape.

“I think that’s just some of the hangover from the disruptions earlier in the month,” Margolin said.

With most weather forecasts showing temperatures falling to some 10-12 degrees below normal over the next few days, there is an elevated risks of freeze-offs in Appalachia coinciding with the demand bump, he added.

“Unlike the early January freeze-offs, these would be closer to the market zones. And several longer-range forecasts were hinting at the cold running a couple of weeks,” Margolin said.

Margolin said while fundamentals do not support such a strong rally at New York, he was surprised more markets didn’t strengthen as February rolled off the board.

“I think folks have very little faith in the weather models of late because there’s been so much daily volatility, and revisions keep moving to the warm side.”

Indeed, NatGasWeather forecasters warned the pattern after Feb. 7 continues to be seen as warmer than normal over the western and central U.S., with only the eastern U.S. near or slightly colder than normal.

Meanwhile, Genscape’s current demand projections show Appalachian demand peaking at 20.84 Bcf/d on Tuesday before tumbling back to 15.46 Bcf/d by Friday and averaging near 15.50 Bcf/d for the second week of February.

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