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Mild Temps Sweep Floor Out From Under Northeast NatGas Forwards

Natural gas forwards markets continued to don their holiday red for the period between Nov. 30 and Dec. 3 as the first storage withdrawal of the winter season wasn’t enough to offset the effects of persistent mild weather in much of the United States.

Most gas markets fell about 12 cents or so, but the average U.S. decline came in at a loftier 22 cents, thanks to some dramatic losses in the Northeast, NGI’s Forward Look data shows.

At New England’s Algonquin Gas Transmission Citygate, January settled Dec. 3 at $5.785, down $1.70 from Nov. 30. February plunged $1.44 during that time to $6.39, while the balance of winter (February-March) tumbled $1.15 to $5.70.

With cash prices at Algonquin averaging a measly $2.61 this past week, and sustained cold weather not yet showing up on the radar, things could get even uglier for Northeast prices.

“The weather is not looking better for January either, so absolutely, prices could fall further,” a Northeast trader said.

Indeed, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration has said above-average temperatures are likely to continue through February.

Meanwhile, the arrival of LNG cargoes in New England also poses downside risk to prices, and one cargo already docked Monday at the Northeast Gateway terminal, according to Bentek Energy.

“These tankers are just sitting around waiting for market,” the trader told NGI.

Patrick Rau, NGI director of strategy and research, agreed that Northeast prices could see further weakness as the cold winter weather that is necessary to sustain higher prices hasn’t showed as of yet.

“It has to be really cold in December to have much of a chance for sustained higher prices, and we just haven’t seen it yet. El Nino suggests we won’t either. Northeast prices will jump on cold snaps, but that cold has to be sustained for price spikes to be sustained,” Rau said.

Unfortunately for natural gas markets, the latest weather models continue to favor “awfully bearish” weather patterns persisting through mid-December, and truly cold weather possibly not arriving until around Dec. 22, according to NatGasWeather.

“We believe the pattern can turn out fairly cold around the start of winter and still believe there’s a bit greater potential for temperatures to trend colder rather than warmer,” the agency said.

“However, the weather data still has a ways to go before expecting the markets to consider it a significant threat with such strong bearish weather sentiment in place. Of course, the failure for colder temperatures to become as intimidating as necessary would be quite bearish,” NatGasWeather said.

The dismal weather picture took its toll on other Northeast markets as well.

At Transco Zone 6-New York, January fixed prices plummeted $1.30 this week to $5.10, and the balance of winter dropped 67 cents to $4.32, according to Forward Look.

Cash prices in New York averaged just $2.105 this week.

At Tetco M3, January was down 66 cents to $3.01, a $1.67 premium over cash prices this week. The balance of winter was down 41.5 cents to $2.72.

Meanwhile, Nymex futures were holding steady in quiet trading Friday, one day after the U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA) reported the first storage withdrawal of the season.

EIA reported a 53 Bcf withdrawal for the week ending Nov. 27, slightly bullish given wide-ranging estimates in the 40-50 Bcf range.

Stocks are now at 3.956 Tcf, 15.9% over last year and 6.7% over the five-year average.

“While U.S. natural gas storage recently crossed a record 4 Tcf, the first withdrawal this week should help to improve sentiment,” analysts with Jefferies said.

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