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NatGas Cash, Futures Slide as Traders Face Mild Weather

Now that the brutal, but short-lived, cold has left eastern markets, traders find themselves readjusting cash positions and looking ahead to a weather and storage environment that is seen weak at best.

In trading for Wednesday delivery, natural gas on Tuesday shed most of the hefty premium seen in Friday's trading and only a handful of points made gains. The NGI National Spot Gas Average plunged a hefty 61 cents to $1.80, led by average declines in the East of more than $2. Most market points outside the Northeast fell about 10 cents to 15 cents.

Futures fared no better. The March contract in electronic trading Monday shed about a nickel, and by closing Tuesday the total decline from Friday's settlement had reached 6.3 cents to $1.903. April had fallen 6.1 cents to $1.969. March crude oil fell 40 cents to $29.04/bbl.

"With natural gas having settled under $2 consistently since Friday, you now have to look at support at $1.75 and resistance at $2," a New York floor trader told NGI. "It's back to business as usual with nothing on the horizon to boost prices. We had 0 degrees over the weekend and now it’s supposed to get up to 50."

Forecasts for 2016 continue to ratchet lower, with a strong recovery seen by 2H2016. Societe Generale said in a report Friday, "The softer than expected storage draw reported this morning [Thursday] provided just enough more bearish sentiment into the market to drive the price back under the $2/MMBtu threshold.

"We are not surprised by the move given the year-on-year storage surplus increased again off this number and aggregate storage has returned to making new historical records," said Societe Generale analyst Breanne Dougherty. "While we still expect to exit March at a level lower than the record set in 2012, with not that many weeks left in the withdrawal season we have to acknowledge that the exit will inevitably be very strong.

"We think this high exit, combined with our expectation that it might prove difficult to spur incremental power loads in spring considering the high baseload that has already been adopted by gas supports a slightly softer price outlook through the end of the year.

"We have revised down our remainder Cal '16 price average by 23 cents, but we hold our 2 Act Story: disproportionate downside 1H2016, more constructive 2H2016." Societe Generale forecasts a Q3 Henry Hub price of $2.77 and Q4 of $3.15

In physical market trading, a one-two punch of nominal temperature forecasts and a weak power environment was enough to send next-day prices tumbling. Forecaster Wunderground.com predicted the Tuesday high in Boston of 56 degrees would slide to 45 Wednesday and 36 Thursday. The normal high this time of year in Boston is 39. Chicago's 35 high Tuesday was expected to sag to 31 Wednesday before advancing to 40 on Thursday. The normal high in the Windy City in mid-February is 36.

Next-day quotes at eastern points lost no time in re-calibrating. Gas at the Algonquin Citygate skidded $3.29 to $3.35 and deliveries to Iroquois, Waddington fell $3.10 to $2.24. Gas on Tennessee Zone 6 200 L plunged $3.07 to $3.30.

Gas bound for New York City on Transco Zone 6 fell the most, dropping $6.20 to $1.94, and deliveries to Texas Eastern M-3, Delivery fell $3.14 to $1.59.

Major Hubs were not hit quite so hard. At the Chicago Citygate next-day deliveries slipped 15 cents to $1.90, and gas at the Henry Hub fell 15 cents as well to $1.92. At Opal next-day packages came in at $1.64, down 10 cents, and gas at the SoCal Citygate changed hands at $1.89, up 2 cents.

Next-day power pricing also did its share of damage to spot gas. Intercontinental Exchange reported that on-peak power at ISO New England’s Massachusetts hub for delivery Wednesday fell $4.95 to $35.56/MWh, and at the New York ISO's Zone G (eastern New York) next-day on peak power free fell $25.61 to $35.39/MWh. At the PJM West delivery point next-day peak power dropped $1.55 to $31.33/MWh.

Over the weekend, Chicago's highs only reached 19. Forecasters are expecting a warming trend. Commodity Weather Group in its Monday morning outlook said, "The big picture over the next two weeks is one of seasonal to above-normal temperature ranges nationally with some fairly big transient warmings at times for the Midwest, East and South, while colder periods are even briefer and weaker on the whole.

"The models offer a range, with the American operational models occasionally showing stronger cold threats and the more conservative American ensembles showing closer to climatology (normal) for the Midwest to East in the six-15 day more frequently. We are mostly concerned about warmer risks, thanks to a very negative Southern Oscillation Index reading (-38 this morning), which typically indicates stronger/warmer El Nino forcing influences in the next two weeks' window," said Matt Rogers, president of the firm.

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