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Traders Mull Longer-Term Market Weakness; March Seen A Penny Lower

March natural gas is expected to open a penny lower Tuesday morning at $2.87 as weather models were largely unchanged overnight and analysts ponder longer-term market weakness. Overnight oil markets rose.

Analysts see a choppy market near term, with a possible price spike, but longer term they are looking lower. "This week still looks exceptionally cold, and next week is apt to see moderation but with much of the upper Midcontinent still seeing significantly below normal weather trends," said Jim Ritterbusch of Ritterbusch and Associates in closing comments Monday. "From here, it appears that some more 'pushing and pulling' lies ahead given the counter forces of production strength and the short-term weather-related demand spike. We feel that the market has likely priced in a couple of large back-to-back supply withdrawals that could drop end-of-season storage to below the 1.65 Tcf level.

"While such a stock would prove ample, especially in comparison with last year, the market will still be vulnerable to the temperature factor for another week or so. We have moved to a sideline stance for now as we look for a place to re-establish a short holding. Despite [Monday's] downside reversal, we can't rule out another lift back to above the $3 mark, especially if Thursday's EIA report indicates a huge withdrawal of more than 250 Bcf, a decline that would imply a narrowing in the year over year surplus of 120 Bcf or more. From a longer-term perspective, we are leaving our downside target of $2.50 on the table."

Gas buyers for Wednesday should have their hands full as weather forecasters are calling for a series of active weather systems to pummel the country. Kari Strenfel, a meteorologist with Wunderground.com, said, "A low-pressure system will shift across the Four Corners on Tuesday, while a cold front will move across the upper Midwest. An area of low pressure will slide eastward over the Four Corners, [and] this system will usher moderate to heavy snow over the southern Rockies.

"Meanwhile, an arctic high-pressure system will move eastward over the Ohio Valley and the Northeast. Cold, arctic air will collide with an onshore flow from the Gulf of Mexico, resulting in mixed precipitation from the southern Plains to the Southeast.

"A cold frontal boundary will swing across the upper Midwest, the Great Lakes and the Ohio Valley. Light to moderate snow showers will be possible across the upper intermountain West, the northern Plains, the upper Midwest, the lower Great Lakes and parts of the interior Mid-Atlantic. Periods of heavy snow will develop over Michigan on Tuesday."

Longer term, Wunderground.com sees major population centers continuing to endure below-normal temperatures. New York City on Friday is expected to see a high of 27 and that rises to 39 by next Wednesday, still 5 degrees below normal. Chicago has it worse. It's Friday high of 17 is expected to make it to only 22 by next Wednesday, 17 degrees off its seasonal norm.

In overnight Globex trading April crude oil rose 16 cents to $49.61/bbl and April RBOB gasoline added a half cent to $1.8434/gal.

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