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'Old Man Winter' Still Alive; May Called 5 Cents Higher

May natural gas is expected to open 5 cents higher Monday morning at $2.01 as weather forecasts in both the short and medium term send a stern reminder that cold temperatures aren't quite ready to depart. Overnight oil markets rose.

The short-term weather picture in major Midwest and eastern markets caught market bulls' attention. "An area of low pressure will move across the Mid-Atlantic on Monday, while a Pacific system affects the Northwest," said Kari Strenfel, a meteorologist with Wunderground.com, in a Monday morning report.

"A low-pressure system will move in an eastward trajectory across the lower Great Lakes, the Mid-Atlantic and the western Atlantic. Temperatures will struggle to climb above the freezing mark from the upper Mississippi Valley to the Northeast. Snow showers will develop across portions of the upper Midwest, New York and New England. A mixture of rain and snow will spread across the northern Mid-Atlantic. In addition, light showers will develop over the Ohio Valley, the Tennessee Valley, the eastern Tennessee Valley and the Mid-Atlantic."

Those cooler trends are expected to carryover into the longer term as well. "Cooler trends continue in the 11-15 day period with greater coverage of belows across the Midwest while seasonal temperatures are still expected across the East," said MDA Weather Services in its Monday morning report.

"The cooler outlook is supported by the continued negative phases of the AO [Arctic Oscillation], NAO [North American Oscillation, and the EPO [Eastern Pacific Oscillation], but those signals are weaker than in the six-10 day period, limiting confidence in the intensity and duration of belows. Additionally, the +WPO [Western Pacific Oscillation] signal with cool/wet conditions in the Southwest may be a limiting factor of cold in the Midwest. The forecast falls between the cooler ECMWF [European model] and the less cool GFS [Global Forecast System], with coolest conditions seen early in the period."

Risk managers, for the moment, are sitting tight. "We had a small cold front move through this past week across the Midwest that may cause a bump in demand this next week," said Mike DeVooght, president of DEVO Capital, a Colorado-based trading and risk management firm. "Overall, we still feel that El Nino produced a warmer than normal winter and there is a good chance we could experience above-average temperatures this summer. As for the next couple months, we expect natural gas not to have any significant moves one way or another. On a trading basis we are standing on the sidelines for now."

This might fall into the category of "nice work if you can get it," but DeVooght does suggest that producers sell the April-October strip at $2.70 should the opportunity arise. The strip settled Friday at $2.167.

In overnight Globex trading May crude oil gained 24 cents to $37.03/bbl and May RBOB gasoline rose a penny to $1.4154/gal.

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