Natural gas cash for weekend and Monday delivery on average took a pretty hard fall in Friday trading, but the devil was in the details and swooning eastern prices were able to overpower strong Midwest quotes as Chicago's high Sunday was not expected to reach double digits.
The NGI National Spot Gas Average fell 27 cents to $3.66 and rising weekend temperatures combined with a soft power market were able to prompt multi-dollar declines along the East Coast. Futures had a hard time, as well with January down as much as 9 cents on the day before a late rally closed the gap and limited January to a loss of 1.9 cents to $3.415. February was off 2.1 cents to $3.449. January crude oil rose $1.00 to $51.90/bbl.
A 14-degree rise in weekend temperatures, combined with weak power markets, was all it took to pull the plug on quotes for physical natural gas over the weekend at eastern points. AccuWeather.com predicted New York City's Friday high of 28 degrees would jump to 42 Saturday before sliding to 33 by Monday. The normal high in New York is 42. Philadelphia's high of 28 on Friday was anticipated to make it to 40 on Saturday before dropping to 35 Monday, 9 degrees below normal.
Gas bound for New York City on Transco Zone 6 tumbled $3.30 to $4.26 and gas on Texas Eastern M-3, Delivery shed 62 cents to $3.41.
A weak power market also kept prices on the defensive. Intercontinental Exchange reported that on-peak Monday power at the ISO New England's Massachusetts Hub fell $31.85 to $70.00/MWh and power at the PJM West terminal skidded $8.43 to $47.99/MWh.
It was a vastly different weather picture in the Midwest, where a new blast of arctic air will settle over the Midwest on Sunday, following snow and ice into Saturday night. AccuWeather.com forecast that Friday's high in Chicago of 24 would rise to 30 by Saturday before plummeting to 7 on Sunday.
Prices rose on pipes capable of delivering into the Chicago market, with gas at the Chicago Citygate up 28 cents to $3.93. Gas at Cheyenne added 31 cents to $3.75, and packages on Kern rose 25 cents to $3.72. Gas on Panhandle Eastern changed hands 22 cents higher at $3.67.
AccuWeather.com meteorologists contended that "Fans who brave the bone-chilling cold at the Chicago Bears game on Sunday, Dec. 18, may endure the coldest football game in Chicago's history. The Chicago Bears will take on their division rival Green Bay Packers at 1:00 p.m. EST on Sunday, and the lowest recorded kick-off temperature at Soldier Field was on Dec. 22, 2008, when the Bears squared off against the Packers, with the air temperature at 2 degrees Fahrenheit.
"There will be 10- to 15-mph winds, producing [wind chill] temperatures around 20 below zero," said meteorologist Dave Samuhel.
"The Bears game this weekend will leave its mark in the record books of coldest NFL games but will fall short of reaching the coldest football game ever played. Known as "The Ice Bowl," the Dallas Cowboys faced the Green Bay Packers at Lambeau Field on Dec. 31, 1967, with a temperature of minus 13 and a wind chill of minus 48."
Futures traders were looking at somewhat longer-term weather forecasts and were stewing on a market that looked just a week ago to be one with solid bullish overtones to one which had become a case of "buy the rumor, sell the fact."
WSI Corp. in its Friday morning report to clients said, "The 11-15 day period forecast is also generally warmer than the previous forecast. CONUS GWHDDs are down 5.3 for days 11-14 and are now only forecast to be 138.1 for the whole period. These are 11.5 below average.
"Day to day details will be key and could cause the forecast to waver in either direction. However, -PNA [Pacific North America pattern] supports warmer risks over the southern U.S. along with a colder risk over the Southwest and north-central U.S."
The recent market tumble clearly has the bulls with their backs against the wall, and both fundamentalists and technicians see further weakness ahead. Jim Ritterbusch of Ritterbusch and Associates sees the weather forecasts as "suggesting above-normal patterns across the eastern half of the U.S. that will sharply reduce withdrawals from storage beyond next week's EIA report. [Thursday's] release offered a supply draw that was about 20 Bcf larger than average industry expectations.
"The market's sharp selloff in the face of such a bullish report underscores a heavy pricing environment that has been accompanied by significant chart damage. From here, we see additional weakening that will carry January futures to about the $3.25 level, especially if weekend temperature updates suggest milder trends into the New Year."
Elliott Wave adherents had calculated critical support at $3.486, and with Thursday's weak close the bulls have some work to do. "Thursday gave a failed attempt to rebound and a weak close. It is once again rally or else time for the bulls," said Walter Zimmermann, vice president at United ICAP, in closing comments Thursday.
"But what about the cold snap? Natty did just rebound from $2.546 to $3.777, so a great deal of cold is likely already discounted in current price levels. To have any hope of saving a bull outcome, natty needs to quickly get back above $3.720. A 'cold weather is coming rally' can be fun as long as one takes profits before it actually gets cold. Otherwise the risk is a 'buy the rumor, sell the news' dump."