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Physical NatGas Muscled Lower, But Futures Pumped Higher By Nearly 10 Cents

Physical natural gas for delivery Thursday slumped in Wednesday trading as strength at Marcellus points and California was unable to overcome weakness at most other market points.

Locations trading in close alignment to the Henry Hub were hit to the tune of double digits, and the NGI National Spot Gas Average fell 9 cents to $1.53. Marcellus points were able to continue to close the price gap with locations downstream on REX Zone 3.

Futures rallied ahead of the weekly inventory report with January adding 9.5 cents to $1.983, and February tacking on 8.1 cents to $2.036. February crude oil jumped $1.36 to $37.50/bbl.

Forecasters called for less moderation in the near term. WSI Corp. in a Wednesday morning report said the next six- to 10-day period "is generally colder or not as mild as previous forecasts across the majority of the nation." Continental U.S. GWHDDs rose by 10.4 to 127.9 for the period.

"Forecast confidence is considered average...as medium range models are in modest agreement with the overall large scale pattern," forecasters said. "There is uncertainty with the details of a storm system early in the period and the day to day details.

"The forecast has room to sway in either direction, given the day to day uncertainty with a storm system(s). The Northeast and Central U.S. have a slight risk to the colder side. The West Coast and Southeast have a slight upside risk."

Longer term, natural gas traders might do well to start anticipating the end of the current El Nino and factor in the emergence of its sister climate phenomenon, La Nina, which could be next to upend weather patterns and potentially wreak havoc on the agricultural commodity and energy markets.

According to a Wall Street Journal report, forecasters in Australia and Japan “have in recent weeks said the current El Nino may already have peaked and will ease through the first half of 2016 as temperatures cool on the subsurface of the eastern Pacific Ocean."

At the start of December, the strongest El Nino since 1997-1998 had caused sea surface temperatures to rise by more than 3.6 degrees F in some locations, rallied some agricultural commodities and "prompted an implosion in natural gas prices to the lowest levels in 14 years."

El Nino events coming to an end often are followed by the reverse, La Nina, which also may lead to a more active Gulf of Mexico hurricane season.

In physical market trading, Marcellus points rose from record lows and downstream markets in the Midwest weakened. Gas on Dominion South added 10 cents to 69 cents, and gas on Tennessee Zn 4 Marcellus gained a nickel to 68 cents. Packages on Transco-Leidy Line changed hands at 69 cents, up 4 cents.

Midwest interconnects along the REX Zone 3 Expansion took it on the chin. Gas at the Moultrie County, IL junction with NGPL fell 13 cents to $1.59, and gas at the Putnam County, IN, point with Panhandle Eastern also dropped 13 cents to $1.61. Parcels on Midwestern Pipeline in Edgar County,IL were seen at $1.61, down 12 cents as well.

Deliveries to other market hubs were lower.

Gas at the Algonquin Citygate skidded 36 cents to 97 cents, and gas at the Chicago Citygate slid 7 cents to $1.72. Parcels traded at the Henry Hub changed hands 13 cents lower at $1.62, and gas on El Paso Permian shed 7 cents to $1.63.

Traders Thursday will have additional input as to recent El Nino-driven warmth on the impact of natural gas supplies. Estimates of the 10:30 a.m. EST release of inventory data by the Energy Information Administration are generally in the mid-20 Bcf withdrawal range.

Last year 29 Bcf was pulled from storage, but the five-year average stands at a much plumper 94 Bcf. IAF Advisors calculated a 21 Bcf decline, and Tradition Energy is looking for a 30 Bcf withdrawal. A Reuters survey of 22 traders and analysts revealed a sample mean of 25 Bcf with a range of -13 Bcf to -38 Bcf.

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