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Weather Models Flinch, Broad Selling Follows; January NatGas Drops 24 Cents

Both physical natural gas for Tuesday delivery and futures took it on the chin in Monday's trading as weekend updates to weather forecasts called for slight moderation in the degree of cold expected over Midwest and eastern energy markets, while the noon updates did little to change that interpretation.

Only one location followed by NGI made any kind of meaningful advance, and most other points were deep in the red by double-digits, or in some cases multiple dollars. TheNGI National Spot Gas Average tumbled 23 cents to $3.62, and that replicated the losses of the spot futures contracts.

January futures shed 23.9 cents to $3.507 and February fell 23.1 cents to $3.510. January crude oil rose $1.33 to $52.83/bbl.

It took only a slight change in the weather forecasts to send trading tremors across physical and futures markets. Weekend weather data showed expected cold well above normal levels, but slightly less than Friday.

Monday’s six-to-10-day forecast “has a mix of big day-to-day changes on a regional basis compared to Friday's forecast," said WSI Corp. in its Monday morning report to clients. "There are some key warmer changes over the East Coast early in the period and then over the Rockies, Midcontinent and Canada late.”

As a result, continental U.S. gas-weighted heating degree days (HDD) fell 1.5 to 166.5 for the period and are 19.5 above average.

"A small change with the timing and track of a storm and its associated cold front could easily swing the forecast in either direction during the start of the period,” WSI said. “In general, there are minor warmer risks over the East ahead of the front, but also some colder risk behind the system."

Noon revisions to the forecast didn't change that much.

The European weather model “was a little colder overall for the next two weeks," said Natgasweather.com in a midday update. "However, the end of the run still showed a milder ridge was preferred. Specifically, it was slightly cooler with the system across the north-central U.S. late this coming Sunday into early next week.

"It then still shows a milder ridge arriving over the eastern U.S. late next week into the following weekend to ease demand, but also trending slightly cooler with this period to add several HDDs back. Although, the end of the suite at day 15 shows a warm bias over the east-central U.S., which was likely viewed as not trending cold enough."

Warm bias or not traders sense a trading opportunity.

"I actually look at this as a buying opportunity," said trading director Alan Harry, of McNamara Options, New York. "Whenever it sells off it's a buying opportunity, and we were talking about the market being top-heavy at the $3.65 to $3.75 range, but I think there is good support at $3.43 and $3.50.

“I don't think we will go much below that just yet because it’s too early in the winter. If it breaks below $3.43, I would be out of my longs.”

Analysts still have $4 in sight.

"Storage has erased its year-over-year surplus, and we think markets are tightening quickly amid declining U.S. output and rising demand” from liquefied natural gas and Mexico, said Jefferies LLC’s Jonathan Wolff. "With a lack of sufficient reinvestment, the market has turned its attention to the potential for price spikes. We remain natural gas bulls, seeing further output declines in 2017 amid northeast gas evacuation limitations and strengthening demand drivers. Our price forecast remains $3.50 for 2017 and $4 long term."

The National Weather Service (NWS) forecasts increased heating load for major energy markets for the week ending Dec. 17. NWS calculated that New England should see 262 HDDs, or 21 more than normal, and the Mid-Atlantic is looking down the barrel of 248 HDD, or 25 more than its norm. The greater Midwest from Ohio to Wisconsin is forecast to have 301 HDD, or 48 more than its normal seasonal tally.

An early view storage survey by The Desk for the week ending Dec. 9 showed a stout drawdown -- and perhaps the first of several triple-digit draws to come. The survey of 10 traders and analysts showed an average 127 Bcf withdrawal with a range of -113 Bcf to -135 Bcf. Last year 46 Bcf was pulled, and the five-year pace stands at 79 Bcf.

Trends in near-term weather forecasts didn't square with next-day price action at major trading centers. Temperature trends in the East and Midwest showed low to sharply lower temperatures near term. Forecaster Wunderground.com predicted Chicago's Monday high of 22 degrees would ease to 21 Tuesday before sliding to 15 by Wednesday, 21 degrees below normal. New York City's Monday high of 47 was seen dropping to 42 Tuesday and 39 by Wednesday, 5 degrees below normal.

Gas at the Algonquin Citygate plunged $4.07 to $5.77, and deliveries to Iroquois, Waddington shed 82 cents to $4.43. Parcels on Tennessee Zone 6 200 L dropped $3.22 to $6.72.

Next-day gas on Texas Eastern M-3, Delivery fell 21 cents to $3.38, and gas bound for New York City on Transco Zone 6 was quoted 40 cents lower at $3.64.

Major market centers also felt the market shifts. Gas at the Chicago Citygate fell 15 cents to $3.66, and deliveries to the Henry Hub skidded 18 cents to $3.57. Gas on El Paso Permian came in 13 cents lower at $3.39, and gas priced at the SoCal Border Avg. Average changed hands 12 cents lower at $3.57.

The lone exception to the day's free-falling prices was Northwest Northwest Sumas, up 85 cents to $5.40. Traders cited extreme cold in Vancouver, BC, some well freeze-offs, and no storage available on that section of pipeline as prompting the higher prices.

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