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NatGas Cash Drifts Lower, But Futures Fall Off Cliff; February Drops 16 Cents

With forecasts of mild temperatures dotting the trading landscape, buyers saw little reason to commit to three-day deals Friday for weekend and Monday gas.

Losses were small but widespread, and a few points in Texas and the Midwest managed to scramble into the plus column. The greatest losses were seen in New England and Mid-Atlantic, where forecasts called for temperatures 15 degrees or more above normal.

The NGI National Spot Gas Average fell a penny to $3.10.

Futures were a different story, with the February contract taking the trajectory of a coyote falling off a cliff in a Saturday morning cartoon. February dropped 16.4 cents to $3.204, and March followed suit with a decline of 14.9 cents to $3.211. The expired February crude oil contract added $1.05 to $52.42/bbl.

Futures traders see solid near-term support not too far away. "On Jan. 9 and Jan. 10 we had two consecutive days with big ranges, big strong bars, and when you have something like that with a big down day [Jan. 9] followed by a big up day [Jan.10] it's a good day for brokers but a bad day for traders," said David Thompson, vice president at Powerhouse LLC, a Washington DC-based trading and risk management firm. "That did signify a bottom for the next five days. We have now given back much of that ensuing rally.

"That low from the 9th at $3.098 would be the key number for support right now. If we hold there, we have a double bottom within two weeks where the market made two attempts to go below $3.10 but couldn't do it. If that holds, you will see some technical buying coming in, but if it breaks, the rally we had in November we are probably aiming for the low part of that at $2.55. All that opens up if we break $3.09. $3.09 is very important," Thompson said.

Even though Thursday's Energy Information Administration storage report had a decidedly bullish tone to it and suggested an overall tightening in the supply-demand balance, traders are focused on near-term weather.

"This market's attempts to piece together a meaningful price advance continue to be thwarted by a lack of bullish weather guidance," said Jim Ritterbusch of Ritterbusch and Associates in a Friday morning report to clients. "Updates to the one- to two-week temperature forecasts are still being featured by above normal expectations within key consuming regions with extension now out to Feb. 3. Although below-normal temperatures are expected within the western half of the country and much of the South, the northeast quadrant has yet to show a potential return of arctic air that will be required to jump start another price advance.

"[T]he further that this winter wears on, the less the price impact when another cold spell does show up on the radar. While some occasional bullish storage reports can briefly spike values, the trade of the past 24 hours is strongly suggesting that some cold weather will be required to spark a significant price rally. As is the case in the petroleum, we have been forced to lower our price expectation and we believe that our $3.55 upside target in March futures may well represent the high for that particular contract during the next five to six weeks."

Gas buyers for power generation across PJM Interconnection over the weekend were not expected to have much in the way of wind generation to work with if the forecast of WSI Corp. turned out to be correct. "Much above average temperatures and below average heating demand are expected during the forecast period [Friday through Tuesday]. A weak frontal system will continue to spread a dissipating swath of rain/drizzle across the power pool today. Max temps will range in the mid 40s, 50s to near 60 in spots. Mostly cloudy skies and a slight chance of a shower will linger into Saturday. It will be unseasonably warm with max temps in the upper 40s, 50s to low 60s.

"A robust storm system will develop over the southern U.S. this weekend and track a track north up the East Coast early next week. The exact track and details still need to be resolved, but this will likely bring primarily rain and gusty winds into the region during Sunday into early Tuesday. Temperatures will vary in the 40s and 50s.

"Relatively light wind generation is expected through Saturday. The expected storm system will likely bolster wind gen during Sunday into Monday, with output in excess of 3 GW."

Moderating temperatures in major East Coast markets pulled the plug on any hope for stronger weekend and Monday physical prices. AccuWeather.com forcast that Boston's Friday high of 43 degrees would reach 51 on Saturday before easing to 38 on Monday, 3 degrees above normal. New York City's Friday high of 45 was seen climbing to 52 Saturday and retreating to 45 by Monday, 7 degrees above its seasonal norm.

Gas on Texas Eastern M-3, Delivery fell 12 cents to $2.95, and deliveries to New York City shed 9 cents to $3.02.

Deliveries to major trading hubs were mixed. Gas at the Chicago Citygates added a nickel to $3.18, and packages at the Henry Hub were quoted flat at $3.21. Gas on El Paso Permian fell 4 cents to $3.00, and packages on Kern Receipt fell a penny to $3.05. Gas at the PG&E Citygate changed hands a penny higher at $3.56.

New England took the biggest hits. Deliveries to the Algonquin Citygate dropped 50 cents to $3.24, and gas on Iroquois, Waddington fell 4 cents to $3.43. Gas on Tenn Zone 6 200L shed 33 cents to $3.38.

Both futures and physical traders could be looking at greater supplies and, by extension, lower prices down the road if the trend in rig deployments continues.

In its weekly rig count tally Baker Hughes Inc. reported that the U.S. natural gas rig count has been climbing and at 142 is well past its year-ago level of 127. But the oil-rich Permian Basin casts a long shadow and once again has put gas-directed drilling increases in the shade.

The weekly rig count tallied by Baker Hughes Inc. again packed a Permian punch on Friday as 13 rigs returned to the oil-rich West Texas and New Mexico play.

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