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Bears Stirring as Forecasts Moderate; February Called 4 Cents Lower

February natural gas is expected to open 4 cents lower Tuesday morning at $3.38 as near-term forecasts moderate east of the Rockies and degree day counts fall far short of historical norms. Overnight oil markets rose.

Weather models overnight turned warmer from prior forecasts from last week and the long holiday weekend. "The forecast trends warmer in this period [six- to 10-day] versus expectations from both Friday and yesterday's holiday reports, which comes as a broad area of low pressure tracking across the eastern half is unable to tap into colder air," MDA Weather Services said in its morning six- to 10-day outlook 

"Additionally, a second disturbance tracking from the Midcontinent to the east in the second half will likewise feed unseasonably warm conditions downstream, with the result including a period with strongly above normal temperatures around the Great Lakes and pressing into the East at times. Temperatures on the warm side of normal will be widespread from the Plains to the East Coast."

Not only is next week's weather expected to be warmer, but this week the National Weather Service (NWS) forecasts warmer conditions will lead to reduced heating requirements in major energy markets. For the week ending Jan. 21, NWS predicts that New England will see 214 heating degree days (HDD), or 70 fewer than normal. The Mid-Atlantic will experience 186 HDD, or 78 fewer than its seasonal norm; and the greater Midwest from Ohio to Wisconsin is expected to have 186 HDD, or 111 fewer than its normal tally.

Analysts see weather-driven price weakness. "[T]here are still no below normal expectations out to about month's end for regions other than the western third of the U.S.," said Jim Ritterbusch of Ritterbusch and Associates in a Tuesday morning report to clients. "So unless the eight-14 day views change abruptly during the next couple of days, this price strength will likely subside.

"The market may be attempting to discount a larger than normal seasonal storage withdrawal per Thursday's EIA report that could stretch the modest surplus by around 20 Bcf, [but] we don't look for the weekly guidance to have much impact unless the withdrawal exceeds average street ideas by at least 7-8 Bcf as was the case last week.”

In overnight Globex trading February crude oil added 77 cents to $53.14/bbl and February RBOB gasoline rose 3 cents to $1.6449/gal.

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