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Cash NatGas Outdistanced by Rebounding Futures; March Adds 9 Cents

Weekend and Monday packages of physical gas traded Friday managed modest gains as rising quotes in the Midwest, Midcontinent, Gulf Coast and Northeast led soft quotes in the Rockies, West Texas and California higher.

The NGI National Spot Gas Average rose 2 cents to $1.99, and the Northeast posted gains of nearly a dime. Futures responded to near-term weather forecasts, and at the close March had added 9.1 cents to $2.063 and April was higher by 7.5 cents to $2.137. March crude oil slumped 83 cents to $30.89/bbl.

The EIA reported December dry gas production at 74.3 Bcf/d, down more than 1 Bcf/d from September levels. A falling rig count and shut-in wells were largely identified as the culprit, and market bulls point to falling production as one component necessary to rebalance the market. How much more of a decline will be necessary to stem the trend of lower prices and rebalance the market? Analysts at EnergyGPS, a Portland OR-based natural gas and power consulting firm, ventured that "if you dropped 6 Bcf/d and with 200 days of injection you would lose 1.2 Tcf, and under a pretty dire case you could easily rebalance the market that way.

"The bigger question is if there are enough uncompleted wells to keep production from dropping no matter what happens to price. It's hard to know, and it depends if pipeline capacity opens up in Marcellus regions and Dominion South and Transco-Leidy Line are getting extremely low prices. How much gas is there versus how much legacy production, which may not be able to compete at $1.80 or whatever they are receiving?"

Weekend and Monday gas prices at Marcellus points continued to struggle. Gas on Dominion South fell 11 cents to $1.31, and deliveries to Tennessee Zn 4 Marcellus shed 9 cents to $1.14. Gas on Transco-Leidy Line fell 7 cents to $1.20.

Other eastern points enjoyed a firm power market. Intercontinental Exchange reported Monday power at ISO New England's Massachusetts Hub rose $9.81 to $38.50/MWh and peak power at the PJM West terminal rose $2.39 to $31.47/MWh. At the Indiana Hub, Monday peak power added $1.20 to $26.00/MWh.

Deliveries to the Algonquin Citygate rose by 19 cents to $3.11, and parcels on Iroquois, Waddington added 13 cents to $2.31. Gas on Tenn Zone 6 200L rose 17 cents to $2.92.

Gas on Texas Eastern M-3, Delivery was flat at $1.56, and supply bound for New York City on Transco Zone 6 rose 8 cents to $2.15.

Weather models showed increasing cold in the eight- to 15-day period, according to forecaster Natgasweather.com. "Weather systems out of Canada will sweep across the central and eastern U.S. with below-normal temperatures and areas of snowfall. Details of how much polar air arrives will need refining due to a very strong temperatures gradient draped across the northern U.S. The West will be mostly dry with milder temperatures. The pattern after Feb. 15th is fairly uncertain with plenty of adjustments to come.

"The weather models are still battling who will win out late next week and beyond between a strong Pacific jet stream approaching the West Coast versus additional polar blasts over Canada attempting to push across the border. The latest data shows a mix of wildly varying solutions, but with the cold camp gaining some momentum back after milder mid-day trends. This makes what happens with today's midday data important to see if colder trends can actually stick after so much flip-flopping in the data the past several days," the firm said.

Traders aren't necessarily buying into any significant weather impact at this late stage of the heating cycle. "The strong overnight rebound appears more related to a technically oversold condition rather than any major adjustments in the short-term temperature outlooks," said Jim Ritterbusch of Ritterbusch and Associates in a Friday morning note to clients. "While below-normal patterns across the eastern half of the U.S. still appear intact, we will reiterate that deviations from normal don't appear pronounced and that response to significant deviations from normal going forward will be cushioned by this advanced stage of the HDD cycle.

"And while the market's ability to discard yesterday's seemingly bearish storage figure that was far removed from our expectation by some 17 Bcf might be signaling the beginning of a sizable price recovery, we will note that weather events, such as the recent major east coast snowstorm, are always difficult to gauge as far as [power generation] impact is concerned. Nonetheless, we are still allowing for some further price recovery into the $2.15-2.20 zone in referencing nearby futures where we will look to re-establish a short holding."

On the economic front, the Labor Department reported an increase in non-farm payrolls of 151,000 for January, less than the 180,000 expected by economists. The unemployment rate dropped to 4.9%, the lowest rate in eight years.

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