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Cash, Futures Race Each Other Higher; March NatGas Adds 12 Cents

What seems to be never ending succession of cold and snow in key population centers prompted still higher next-day gas prices in Wednesday's trading. Outside of titanic gains reported in New England and the Mid-Atlantic, increases of 20 to 30 cents were common. Only a couple of points traded lower, and the overall spot physical gas price rose 71 cents to $4.18.

Temperatures were forecast to be below normal along the Eastern Seaboard, but Great Lakes and Midwest locations were seen 20 degrees or more below normal. The shift in weather was not lost on futures traders, and plump ending inventories at the end of the heating season are now looking less likely. At the close, March had risen 12.0 cents to $2.797 and April was higher by 11.0 cents to $2.814. March crude oil continued to struggle losing $1.18 to $48.84/bbl.

From the East Coast to the Midwest, the weather patterns are unrelenting. AccuWeather.com forecast that Boston's high Wednesday of 22 degrees would reach 28 Thursday before plunging to 15 Friday. The normal high in Boston this time of year is 38. Boston has received 40.8 inches of snow the first 11 days of February and already has tallied 490 heating degree days out of a normal accumulation of 931, according to AccuWeather.com figures.

Cleveland's Wednesday high of 37 is anticipated to drop to 17 Thursday and 18 Friday, well short of its normal mid-February high of 37. Chicago's high Wednesday of 36 was seen falling to 11 Thursday before recovering to all of 23 Friday, 12 degrees below normal.

Packages at the Algonquin Citygates Thursday jumped $2.84 to $19.27 and deliveries to Dracut gained $2.20 to $18.01. Gas on Tennessee Zone 6 200 L shot higher by $3.36 to $19.20.

In the Mid-Atlantic, gas bound for New York City on Transco Zone 6 added $3.87 to $15.22 and gas on Tetco M-3 rose $4.39 to $8.57.

In the Marcellus, gas on Millennium rose by 10 cents to $1.75 and deliveries to Transco Leidy added 20 cents to $1.67. Gas on Tennessee Zone 4 Marcellus added 15 cents to $1.61 and packages on Dominion South rose 43 cents to $2.83.

In the Midwest, the weather-driven loads have compressed historical pricing differentials. "With the weather the [lack of] difference between Demarcation and Chicago [Citygates] isn't surprising, but normally that differential is about a dime-ish. So far I haven't had any difficulty moving my gas," said a Midwest marketer.

On Alliance next-day deliveries were seen at $3.19, up 31 cents and at the Chicago Citygates Thursday packages changed hands at $3.14, up 38 cents. Gas at Demarcation came in at $3.16, up 35 cents and at the ANR Joliet Hub gas was quoted at $3.21, up 35 cents. Deliveries to Consumers added 37 cents to $3.18.

Producing regions also participated in advance of spot prices. Deliveries to ANR SW Thursday gained 16 cents to $2.63 and gas at the NGPL Midcontinent Pool rose 18 cents to $2.63. Parcels on Panhandle Eastern were seen 24 cents higher at $2.58 and deliveries to OGT were quoted 17 cents higher at $2.60.

Forecasters are calling for the most severe conditions of the winter so far. "Waves of arctic air will bring the lowest temperatures and the harshest conditions of the winter from late this week through the middle of the month," said AccuWeather.com meteorologist Alex Sosnowski.

"The arctic air will be pushed along by a couple of Alberta Clipper storms with rounds of light snow in parts of the Midwest and the potential for a couple of heavy snow events in part of the coastal Northeast. In perspective, the benchmark low, or the coldest it has been thus far this winter, in New York City was 8 F, on Jan. 8. On that same day, the temperature dipped to minus 2 F in Detroit, minus 1 F in Boston, 11 F at Atlanta and 12 F at Washington, D.C.

"The first blast of arctic air will sweep from the Midwest to the Atlantic coast through the end of the week, [and] during multiple days, temperatures will not climb above zero F in northern Minnesota and part of northern Michigan. While on the coldest days temperatures will climb into the single digits and teens from Minneapolis to Chicago, Detroit, Pittsburgh and Boston, [Wind chill] temperatures will be below zero for many hours on multiple days. Actual nighttime low temperatures will dip below zero on occasion."

Surging next-day peak power prices provided plenty of cushion for the purchase of natural gas for power generation. The Intercontinental Exchange reported that at the ISO New England's Massachusetts Hub Thursday peak power jumped $13.28 to $141.45/MWh and peak power at New York ISO's Zone G (eastern New York) vaulted $42.07 to $109.74/MWh. Peak power at the PJM Interconnect's West terminal rose $12.02 to $51.15/MWh.

Things may be cold now, but by this time next week Old Man Winter will have reappeared in the nation's mid-section if overnight model runs are correct. "The big story today is the continued strengthening of the upcoming colder period with overnight models trending especially colder with the next outbreak mid to late next week and carrying deeper into the 11-15 day period," said forecaster Commodity Weather Group in its morning report. "We did see some warmer changes today including Texas this weekend and some warmer East Coast shifts next Tuesday-Wednesday with a storm track change. Otherwise, after an intense surge of cold this weekend into the Midwest and East, we track another very significant cold outbreak into the middle of the country by the middle of next week.

"This second one has a much better opportunity to reach Texas and more of the Deep South (some models threaten snow from Dallas/Houston to Atlanta) next week. Signs of more variability in the 11-15 day have either been delayed or removed on various models, helping to extend the cold pattern longer and stronger through the final week of February too," said Matt Rogers, president of the firm.

For the moment, snow has abated in New England, but physical buyers will still have to be on their toes. The National Weather Service in southeast Massachusetts reported Wednesday morning that "generally cold and dry conditions were expected [Wednesday]. Light ocean effect snow will affect portions of southeast coastal Massachusetts today into tonight. Nuisance light snow mainly for southeast New England especially Cape Cod and the islands Thursday into Friday. A more potent winter storm is possible for Saturday into Sunday. Below average temperatures for much of the forecast period...with an Arctic chill early next week."

In spite of Tuesday's healthy 8-cent gain and Wednesday's 12-cent rise, market technicians aren't convinced that a market bottom is anywhere near in place. "While I would not classify Tuesday's price action as an acceleration higher, it was constructive," said Brian LaRose, market technician with United ICAP. "The question now, can the bulls build some momentum? To even suggest a bottom is forming the 0.236 of $4.544 to $2.567 [market decline] will need to be exceeded. The 0.236 cuts at $3.034. On top of that, bulls will need to shift the technicals in their favor. [We] have no case for a bottom being in place otherwise."

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