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NatGas Cash Inches Lower, But Weak Weather Outlooks, Technicals Pummel Futures

Physical gas for Tuesday delivery traded a few pennies on either side of unchanged Monday as mild weather conditions continued as the norm, and both temperature forecasts and power pricing offered little encouragement to initiate incremental purchases.

Although positive price changes permeated the Midcontinent and Midwest, softness in the East and California tugged average quotes into the loss column, and the NGI National Spot Gas Average slipped 1 cent to $2.36.

Futures prices traded lower from the get-go, and by the time the market opened, April was already down 11 cents. Prices moved little throughout the day, and at the close April had retreated 9.4 cents to $2.693, and May had shed 8.9 cents to $2.779. April crude oil rose 6 cents to $54.05/bbl.

"I cannot think of any reason why anyone would want to buy this market," said a New York floor trader. "There is plenty of gas out there, and we could have a snoozefest of a spring and summer. I like the market to move lower, but you have to pick your spots if you think it's going to move higher.

"I'm trying to think of a reason to buy the market, and it's tough selling rallies because it might spike higher. This is where the market should be. Prices are low because there's a ton of gas out there, and we didn't have any winter. March is a swing month so you have to be careful."

Market technicians see a march to a spring seasonal cycle low well ahead of schedule. United ICAP Vice President Walter Zimmermann last week gave a price acceleration lower, and now the “move toward a $2.320 area average seasonal cycle low is now way ahead of schedule.

"There are only three possible outcomes,” he said in a note to clients. “Either natgas bottoms early, the decline goes well below a $2.320 area low, or natgas spends the next few weeks congesting. As this is natgas that we are talking about, a few weeks of congestion seems the least likely outcome by far."

In what appears to be May in February, near-term temperatures were forecast to play well above seasonal norms, and prices for the most part slumped. Wunderground.com said the Monday high in Boston of 54 degrees would slide to 51 Tuesday before jumping to 62 Wednesday, 21 degrees above normal. Chicago's Monday high of 53 was seen shooting to 62 Tuesday before dropping to 42 Wednesday, 2 degrees above normal.

Gas at the Algonquin Citygate fell 8 cents to $2.18, and deliveries to the Chicago Citygate added a nickel to $2.58. Deliveries to the Henry Hub fell a nickel to $2.44, and gas on Panhandle Eastern managed a rise of 4 cents to $2.31. Gas priced at the SoCal Border Avg. was quoted 8 cents lower at $2.41.

Next-day power prices across the country languished. Tuesday on-peak power at the ISO New England's Massachusetts Hub fell 11 cents to $22.18/MWh, according to the Intercontinental Exchange. Next-day power at the PJM Interconnection's West Hub fell $1.93 to $26.75/MWh, and power at SP-15 shed 49 cents to $22.09/MWh.

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Longer term weather forecasts remain unsupportive, and the April contract attempted to normalize with the expired March at $2.627.

Monday overnight weather models turned more moderate, with warmth displacing early cold in the six- to 10-day period.

"The forecast undergoes warm changes versus previous expectations, especially in the first half of the period," said MDA Weather Services in a Monday morning report. "Strong 'aboves' are now projected in the Midcontinent early on ahead of low pressure, with much aboves spreading into the East by mid-period after 'belows' at the onset.

"Some brief cold changes are noted late in the wake of the cold front, with temperatures retreating to below-normal levels in the Midwest and East on day 10 as high pressure advances in. However, the forecast remains warmer than guidance here given recent model biases. Persistent warmth is seen from the Southwest to Texas.

"The East could see stronger warmth more on par with recent warmth ahead of the cold front. Models suggest colder risks with high pressure across the eastern half late."

Risk managers see natural gas prices congesting around current levels.

"Now that gas has given back all of its cold weather gains and has discounted warmer than normal temperatures for the balance of the month, there is a good chance we could consolidate around current levels for a couple weeks," said DEVO Capital President Mike DeVooght in a weekend note to clients. "If March turns cold, we could see a rally back to the $3.20-3.30 level."

Forecasts are calling for at least one shot of cold this week. Early in the week, a surge of warm air is expected to charge through the Ohio Valley.

"As quickly as the warmth returns, a storm system is set to barrel across the country during the middle of the week and wash the spring preview away," said AccuWeather.com meteorologist Faith Eherts.

She said the storm would usher in cold air from the Midwest to the mid-Atlantic and New England. "While temperatures will remain near or slightly below average in most locations, the steep temperature drop and gusty winds will make the late week and weekend weather feel strikingly colder.

"By Friday, temperatures will struggle to exceed 40 degrees in the Interstate 95 corridor from Boston to Washington, DC, while interior regions get stuck near the freezing mark.

"A bit of snow may accompany the colder air from the Midwest to the mid-Atlantic on Thursday into Friday. With an active weather pattern ahead for March, another warmth-busting cold front could impact the eastern U.S. again next week."

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