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January NatGas Settles Sub-$2 First Time Since 1998; New England NatGas Trolls All-Time Lows

Natural gas for weekend and Monday delivery traded sharply lower Friday as traders saw little need to commit to three-day deals, and at the same time weather forecasts in major metropolitan markets called for temperatures to flirt with record highs.

Once the opening bell sounded on Friday, futures were solidly grounded below $2. At the close January had fallen 2.5 cents to $1.990, which was January’s first sub-$2 settle as the prompt month since Dec. 29, 1998, when it finished the day at $1.765.

February natural gas came in 2.5 cents lower as well to settle at $2.050. January crude oil continued its flight lower falling $1.14 to $35.62/bbl.

New England points neared record lows. The NGI National Spot Gas Average dropped 20 cents to $1.58, but eastern points on average dropped close to 30 cents.

New England points were some of the hardest hit, but weather forecasts called for mild temperatures throughout the country. AccuWeather.com predicted the high Friday in New York City of 62 degrees would reach 63 Saturday and Monday. The normal high in New York is 44 this time of year. Dallas' Friday high of 75 was anticipated to retreat to 74 Saturday before falling to 67 Monday. The normal high in Dallas is 58 in mid-December.

Weekend and Monday gas at the Algonquin Citygate shed 40 cents to $1.07, and deliveries to Iroquois, Waddington dropped 45 cents to $1.42.

Gas on Tenn Zone 6 200L for the three-day period traded as low as 78 cents before reaching an average of $1.06, nearing the lowest ever average according to NGI data. The all-time average low for the point was $1.01, which was recorded on July 2, 2015.

Much of the problem stems from a broad ridge of above-normal temperatures, as much as 20 to 30 degrees above normal extending from Little Rock, AR, to Ottawa, Canada.

"After a mild week across much of the eastern U.S., record-breaking warmth will build for the second weekend of December," said AccuWeather.com meteorologist Renee Duff.

"Temperatures are forecast to climb to levels more typical of October, and for most of the East, high temperatures will range 10 to 20 degrees Fahrenheit above normal for this time of year. Temperatures in some areas could climb to 30 degrees above normal this weekend. Areas across the East will have several days in a row of record or near-record warmth through Monday. Some records that will be challenged have held since the 1800s."

Midwest quotes were not spared either. Gas on Alliance came in 17 cents lower at $1.74, and deliveries to the Chicago Citygate were quoted 21 cents lower at $1.75. Deliveries to Consumers changed hands down 17 cents to $1.75, and gas on Michigan Consolidated was seen 17 cents lower also to $1.76.

Major market hubs also suffered a double-digit drubbing. Gas at the Henry Hub skidded 14 cents to $1.77, and deliveries on Transwestern San Juan were off 19 cents to $1.76. Deliveries to Opal dropped 20 cents to $1.79, and gas at the SoCal Border Avg. fell 18 cents to $1.95.

Analysts point out that even significant fundamental changes in the demand landscape, such as coal-to-gas switching and inordinate drawdowns from storage, can't offset an ongoing weather regime of mild temperatures. "Mild temperature conditions that are still seeing no indication of significant change continue to weigh on this market, with bearish spillover from exceptionally weak heating oil futures adding to downside momentum," said Jim Ritterbusch of Ritterbusch and Associates in a Friday morning note to clients.

"Nearby futures have dropped to below our expected support at $2.05 even as yesterday's EIA storage report provided a sizable bullish miss of some 13 Bcf. The counter-intuitive response to the EIA data is underscoring an extremely heavy pricing environment that is forcing observers to look ahead to some smaller than normal supply draws as this month proceeds that should easily offset yesterday's contraction in the supply surplus. And with abnormally mild November and December weather conditions well entrenched, visions of an El Nino influenced mild winter are very easy to imagine. This is forcing the market to look even further down the road to next year when storage overcrowding could become a significant bearish item."

Gas buyers for power generation across the MISO footprint could expect weekend wind generation over the power pool to be highly variable. In its Friday morning report WSI Corp said, "Much above average temperatures are expected during the period. [Friday] will feature variably cloudy skies and high temps in the upper 30s, 40s and 50s north; 60s and 70s south. Conditions will change during the weekend into the start of next week as a robust storm system will develop over the central U.S. This storm may trigger heavy rain and strong thunderstorms across the Mississippi and Ohio Valley, while there may be a narrow swath of wet snow across the Upper Midwest. [Six- to 10-day] GWHDDs dropped 7.7 and are forecast to be 127.1 for the CONUS.

"Wind generation will sharply subside and become relatively light today into Saturday. The weekend storm will likely cause wind gen to ramp back up during Sunday into early Monday. The secondary system may provide another boost of wind gen during Tuesday. During these two spikes, output is forecast to peak 8-10 GW."

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