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Mid-Atlantic Leads Broad Decline as Storms Forecast; Futures Slump on EIA Data

Natural gas for delivery Friday fell hard in Thursday's trading as traders ignored near-term weather forecasts and elected to get deals done ahead of an Energy Information Administration (EIA) storage report that was expected to show inventories reflecting below-normal usage patterns.

Some East and Northeast points saw multi-dollar drops. Outside of the volatile East, most points were down by a dime to 15 cents, although a few locations saw drops of as much as a quarter. Marketers were reluctant to buy, and the overall market shed 50 cents to $2.94. The first salvo ahead of the broad market decline was fired early when March futures opened 3 cents lower. Subsequently, the EIA reported a withdrawal from storage of 115 Bcf, about 5 Bcf shy of expectations, and prices posted the lows of the session immediately after the figure was released. At the close, March had fallen 6.2 cents to $2.600 and April was down 5.5 cents to $2.614. March crude oil added $2.03 to $50.48/bbl.

In spite of forecast cold weather, marketers said they had adequate supplies and saw no reason to buy. "We bought much of our customers' gas back in the fall at a basis differential and from what we know now, we are set up pretty well volume-wise. We aren't buying," said a Michigan marketer.

The marketer admitted that customers' usage would be clearer come Monday, and they may have to do some buying then to balance accounts, but "what's the weather going to be like to the end of the month? They change those weather forecasts frequently," he said.

Eastern points took the biggest losses with deliveries to New York City on Transco Zone 6 falling $7.10 to $6.13 and gas on Tetco M-3 shedding $2.32 to $4.01.

Deliveries to the Algonquin Citygates fell 94 cents to $11.36, and gas at Iroquois Waddington dropped $3.12 to $6.74. On Tennessee Zone 6 200 L, next-day packages changed hands at $10.78, down $1.76.

Marcellus points were mostly mixed. Gas on Millennium was seen at $1.59, down 4 cents, and deliveries to Transco Leidy added a nickel to $1.43. Packages on Tennessee Zone 4 Marcellus added 6 cents to $1.40, and gas on Dominion South fell 36 cents to $2.06.

Gulf locations were down by a dime or more. Gas for Friday delivery on Columbia Gulf Mainline shed 11 cents to $2.58, and packages at the Henry Hub were quoted 10 cents lower at $2.63. On Tennessee 500 L, gas came in 13 cents lower at $2.57, and at Katy gas changed hands at $2.47, down 14 cents.

Points up and down the West Coast were not spared as well. Gas at Malin fell 14 cents to $2.29, and deliveries to PG&E Citygates dropped a dime to $2.83. At the SoCal Citygates, next-day deliveries shed 17 cents to $2.50, and at the SoCal Border gas was quoted at $2.34, down 17 cents. Deliveries on El Paso S Mainline were seen 17 cents lower at $2.34.

The overall decline in prices curiously comes as near-term weather forecasts call for a series of storms to pummel Midwest and eastern population centers. "A train of storms will bring round after round of snow from the Upper Midwest to the Northeast this weekend into early next week," said AccuWeather.com meteorologist Alex Sosnowski.

"The storms will bring episodes of snow every 12-24 hours or so from northern Minnesota, upstate New York, northern Pennsylvania, northern New Jersey and New England. In some cases, there may be snow of varying intensity from this weekend right straight through into early next week. The first batch of snow in the train will move into the Upper Midwest on Friday by way of Canada and take a track to the east-southeast.

"Additional systems will follow into early Monday in the Midwest, and exiting the Northeast by Tuesday, [and] most of the snow events will tend to be more of a nuisance, where property owners will have to clean off a coating to an inch or two of snow periodically, while road crews will have to put down several rounds of deicing or anti-skid materials. There will be some exceptions, mainly just north of the track of each of the storms, where several inches of snow can fall. The cumulative effect of the snow could be quite heavy for some communities."

Traders got a further reminder of the well-supplied nature of the market when the EIA reported a decrease of 115 Bcf in its 10:30 a.m. EST release of inventory figures. The number was just a few Bcf below estimates, but miles away from last year's 259 Bcf withdrawal and a five-year average of 165 Bcf. March futures fell to a low of $2.578 after the number was released and by 10:45 EST March was trading at $2.601, down 6.1 cents from Wednesday's settlement.

Prior to the release of the data analysts were looking for a decrease of about 120 Bcf. IAF Advisors analysts calculated a 111 Bcf decline, but a Reuters survey of 21 industry observers revealed an average 122 Bcf with a range of 104 Bcf to 141 Bcf. Analysts at ICAP Energy were looking for a 119 Bcf pull, and Bentek Energy's flow model predicted a 112 Bcf withdrawal.

"Both production and demand edged higher during the week, with residential/commercial and power burn demand gaining 1.0 Bcf/d and 2.3 Bcf/d, respectively," Bentek said. "This was offset by slight gains in production, which continued to recover from freeze-offs and posted its highest weekly average for 2015 at 72.4 Bcf/d. The majority of the cold during the week was centered in the Northeast, with temperatures moderating significantly in the West and only falling slightly in the Producing Region."

"The market stayed down on the number. There is nothing bullish about the market although there was some sympathy with crude the other day when the market rallied. There is no bullish sentiment in natural gas, although you may see some anomalies on profit taking," said a New York floor trader once the storage data was released.

Tim Evans of Citi Futures Perspective saw the number as bearish. "The net withdrawal of 115 Bcf was both less than expected and below the 166 Bcf five-year average for the date, a clearly bearish result.  The draw was less than anticipated for a third consecutive week, helping to reinforce the idea that the background supply/demand balance has weakened, with bearish implications for future reports."

Inventories now stand at 2,428 Bcf and are 468 Bcf greater than last year and 29 Bcf below the five-year average. In the East Region 87 Bcf was withdrawn and the West Region saw inventories fall 4 Bcf. Stocks in the Producing Region declined by 10 Bcf.

Market technicians versed in Elliott Wave and retracement analysis see the natural gas market headed lower, and in some cases below $2. "[It] still very much looks like we need lower lows to complete a five-wave pattern off the $3.352 high," said Brian LaRose, a market technician with United ICAP. "Two possibilities in this scenario, a diagonal fifth wave or a fifth wave extension. Peg $2.538-2.386 as the maximum implied downside target for a diagonal fifth wave. If natgas cannot carve out a bottom from this zone, a fifth wave extension should be expected. That would mean a test of the $1.902 low."

WSI Corp. in its Thursday morning forecast saw little change in intermediate weather. "The latest 11-15 day period forecast is comparable to the past forecast. If anything, it's not quite as cold across parts of the East and a bit cooler across the West. Forecast confidence is average as medium-range models are in better agreement during the medium-range periods when compared to past days.

"There is a slight upside risk across the southern U.S., but a risk to the colder side across the Rockies into the north-central U.S. as there may be some retrogression of the pattern."

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