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NatGas Cash Takes Weather-Driven Hit, But Futures Waffle to Mixed Close

Physical natural gas for Wednesday delivery slipped lower in Tuesday's trading as most points experienced a post-holiday letdown with losses of a dime or more.

The Northeast posted the day's greatest setbacks, with declines of a 1$ or more at some points, and the NGI National Spot Gas Average fell 11 cents to $3.22. New England and Mid-Atlantic temperature forecasts called for readings as much as 10 to 15 degrees above normal by the end of the week; next-day power prices were unsupportive, and heating loads were forecast to be well below seasonal norms.

Futures took a hit early on but managed to climb back to a narrowly mixed close. At the end of the day, February had eased seven-tenths of a cent to $3.412 and March was higher by nine-tenths of a cent to $3.405. February crude oil rose 11 cents to $52.48/bbl.

Short-term traders are optimistic. "Look for a little push back up," said a New York floor trader. "If prices can't break the $3.50 to $3.52 area it will back off. I like the market and it looks like another week to week-and-a-half to get over that resistance."

Longer term, analysts see weather-driven price weakness and firm closes such as today difficult to replicate. "[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."

Short-term and longer-term weather outlooks are a big obstacle for the bulls. Physical prices in New England, and to a lesser extent the Mid-Atlantic, weakened as near-term temperature forecasts came in well above normal. Wunderground.com forecast that Boston's Tuesday high of 42 would ease to 40 Wednesday before reaching 45 Thursday, 10 degrees above normal. Philadelphia's high on Tuesday of 44 was expected to rise to 51 Wednesday and reach 54 on Thursday, a stout 14 degrees above normal.

Wednesday gas delivered to the Algonquin Citygate skidded $1.40 to $3.62, and gas on Iroquois Zone 2 shed 60 cents to $3.63. Gas on Tenn Zone 6 200L fell $1.83 to $3.68.

Mid-Atlantic quotes also softened. Gas on Texas Eastern M-3, Delivery fell 10 cents to $3.15, and parcels bound for New York City on Transco Zone 6 were quoted at $3.25, down 18 cents.

Major market centers were a tad more resilient. Gas at the Chicago Citygate changed hands 7 cents lower at $3.23, and gas on Transco Zone 4 came in a nickel lower at $3.24. Packages on El Paso Permian shed 3 cents to $3.13, and gas at Opal fell 6 cents to $3.28. Deliveries to the PG&E Citygate were unchanged at $3.66.

For the week, heating load is forecast to be below normal at eastern and Midwest points, and next-day power prices were on balance lower.

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.

Intercontinental Exchange reported on-peak power Wednesday at ISO New England's Massachusetts Hub fell $7.80 to $35.45/MWh, but next-day power at the PJM West terminal added $1.25 to $32.45/MWh.

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."

All these moderating temperatures are translating to national demand less than 80 Bcf/d, observers say. "[T]he remarkably mild conditions east of the Rockies and larger populations will vastly offset any western strength," industry consultant Genscape said in a Tuesday morning report.

"Genscape S/D has Lower 48 demand averaging just 76 Bcf/d through Friday, topping out [Wednesday] around 78.3 Bcf/d."

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