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Cash NatGas Inches Lower; Futures Muddle to Mixed Close

Physical natural gas for Wednesday delivery moved little as near-term temperature forecasts remained benign and little movement was seen in futures trading.

The NGI National Spot Gas Average fell a penny to $1.87, although eastern points on average were able to muster gains of more than a dime. Modest gains in East Texas and the Midcontinent were mostly offset by losses in South Louisiana and the Midwest. At the close of futures trading, December had eased 0.3 cent to $2.253 and January had risen 1.5 cents to $2.463. December crude oil added $1.76 to $47.90/bbl.

Next-day prices in California were mixed as next-day power made only nominal gains and power loads and forecast temperatures were held in check. Intercontinental Exchange reported that next-day peak power at NP-15 rose 80 cents to $32.93/MWh and power at SP-15 also gained just 80 cents to $30.80/MWh.

Gas for delivery at Malin fell 3 cents to $2.08, and parcels at the PG&E Citygate rose 7 cents to $2.64. Gas at the SoCal Citygates rose 7 cents to $2.38, yet gas at the SoCal Border Avg. changed hands at $1.98, down 11 cents. Gas on El Paso S. Mainline/N. Baja was quoted a dime lower at $2.00.

Little increase was seen in power demand. The California Independent System Operator (CAISO) forecast that Tuesday's peak load of 28,697 MW would rise to 29,648 MW Wednesday.

Lower than normal temperature forecasts right at the point where no degree days accumulate (65 degrees) also provided little incentive to make incremental purchases. AccuWeather.com forecast the Tuesday high in Los Angeles of 68 would hold Wednesday and reach 72 on Thursday. The normal high in the City of Angels is 76 this time of year. San Francisco's Tuesday high of 64 was expected to slide to 61 Wednesday and Thursday, 5 degrees below normal.

Other major hubs were mixed. Gas at the Henry Hub was seen at $1.90, down 2 cents, and gas at the Algonquin Citygate fell 42 cents to $4.19. Deliveries to the Chicago Citygate added 2 cents to $1.98, and gas at Opal fell 3 cents to $1.97.

A West Coast power and gas trader sees the $1.948 low in the November contract last week as the market bottom for now. "I think what it will take to change that is actual weather being warmer than normal, not burning as much, then you are left with whatever price has to accommodate that.

"Until we get there, I think that is the case. You are not going to discount an El Nino and all the resulting surpluses in January and February right now when it actually hasn't happened yet."

The temperature outlook overnight turned warmer. "[Tuesday's] 6-10 day forecast has swung back to the warmer side over a good portion of the central and eastern U.S., with the biggest revisions over the South," WSI Corp. said in its Tuesday morning report. "The West is a little bit colder. GWHDDs dropped 3.4 to 71.6 for the CONUS.

"Forecast confidence is average as models are in reasonably good agreement with the general timing and progression of the pattern. However, there is increasing spread with a storm system during the end of the period. The forecast has room to sway in either direction at this point. The southern and eastern U.S. have more of an upside risk, while the West and northern Plains have a slight risk to the colder side."

Moderating weather forecasts can't seem to get out of the way of market bulls, and analysts point out that the forecast calls for sharply warmer readings than a year ago.

According to AccuWeather.com figures, Chicago scored 852 heating degree days (HDD) in November 2014, well above it's average of 707. New York City registered 584 HDDs, also well above its November norm of 519.

"Although it's not unusual for storage injections to continue into the third week of November as the current outlook suggests, we note the minor build anticipated for the week ending Nov. 20 is going to be a dramatic contrast with the remarkable 141 Bcf net withdrawal from a year ago," said Tim Evans of Citi Futures Perspective in closing comments to clients Monday.

Evans' figures show that by Nov. 20, the year-on-five-year storage surplus will reach a plump 323 Bcf, and he noted that the stout 141 Bcf withdrawal of a year ago "is also a component of the five-year average draw of 36 Bcf. The upshot is that while the upcoming temperatures are warmer than normal, some of the bearish storage comparison says more about last year than it does about the current cycle.

"The new record high in storage and the expanding year-on-five-year average do represent ongoing downward fundamental pressure on prices that warn against betting on a rebound. At the same time, however, over the intermediate term we do see potential for the market to find a bottom here, with the eventual arrival of more seasonal temperatures prompting a round of short-covering that could lift nearby futures back to $3.00 or more over the next two to three months. Winter may not look as supportive as in the past, but it will still produce the strongest physical consumption of the year."

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