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Near-Term Cool Lifts NatGas Cash; Futures Surge on Spec Buying

Physical natural gas for Wednesday delivery gained across the board in Tuesday trading as double-digit gains in the Midwest, prompted by near-term weather events, lifted quotes.

Most points added anywhere from a nickel to a dime, but traders also found it hard to ignore a rambunctious screen. The NGI National Spot Gas Average rose 7 cents to $3.00.

Futures traders were skeptical of further gains at the outset of Tuesday's trading, but indications of fund and managed account buying, along with an improved technical picture, put the bulls back in the driver's seat.

At the close, May had added 16.5 cents to $3.293, and June was up 16.1 cents to $3.365. May crude oil joined the party and added 79 cents to $51.03/bbl.

"We heard that there were a couple of funds buying," said a trader with FCStone Latin America in Miami. "There was definitely speculative buying, and maybe what exacerbated the move up was [that] some people caught on the short side who had to cover once the buying started...If it breaks resistance at $3.301, [Tuesday's] high, the next target is $3.389."

Others aren't quite ready to join the buying.

Tuesday's trading "proved much stronger than we had expected with prices pushing assertively above our expected resistance at the $3.25 level," said Jim Ritterbusch of Ritterbusch and Associates. "Reasons behind the sharp advance appeared varied, with some cooler adjustments to the short-term temperature views, talk of nuclear outages, strong power and export demand, etc., all combining to advance May futures to highest level in almost two months. Add in some apparent bullish spillover from the petroleum, and conditions appeared ripe for the advance."

The trading on Tuesday, he said, "also offered somewhat of a technical head fake as violation of the two-month uptrend line [Monday] overnight was quickly followed by an upside reversal that forced new technically motivated shorts to run for cover. From here, the charts would suggest a further upside to around the 3.31 area, violation of which could clear the way for additional strength to the 3.40 - 3.45 zone."

The rapid advances likely will be contingent on the U.S. Energy Information Administration's storage report on Thursday, Ritterbusch said.

Tuesday's rally "also appeared to be discounting a small storage withdrawal rather than a small injection that is widely anticipated within the industry. All factors considered, we are still on the sidelines as we remain reluctant to follow this advance, given only limited impetus from the weather factor.

"We believe that production could be slowly responding to the past year's dramatic upswing in the oil rig counts that could start to translate to stronger associated gas output."

There was no observable trend in Monday overnight weather data.

"There are numerous day-to-day changes to the six-10 day period forecast that more or less offset each other," said WSI Corp. in its Tuesday morning report to clients. Continental U.S. gas-weighted heating degree days were up 1.2 to 45.9, which is 22.4 below average. Population-weighted cooling degree days were at 5.3.

WSI said confidence in the forecast was only average, and said it was "the time of the year before spring greening when a southwest-west wind can support a warmer risk over the Midwest, Northeast and Mid Atlantic."

A forecast cooling trend that shot across the Great Lakes proved sufficient to lift Midwest cash quotes. Wunderground.com expected Chicago's high of 55 degrees Tuesday would sink to 42 Wednesday before recovering to 47 Thursday, 7 degrees below normal. Detroit's 54 high on Tuesday was seen falling to 50 Wednesday and to 43 Thursday, also 7 degrees lower than the seasonal norm.

Gas on Alliance rose 11 cents to $3.15, and deliveries to Consumers changed hands 3 cents higher at $3.17. Gas on Michigan Consolidated gained 11 cents to $3.17.

Other market centers firmed as well. Gas at the Algonquin Citygate rose 8 cents to $3.75, and deliveries to Dominion South fetched $2.82, up by 3 cents. Gas at the Chicago Citygate was quoted at $3.15, up 16 cents, and gas at the Henry Hub added a couple of pennies to $3.07.

Gas on Panhandle Eastern rose 9 cents to $2.79, deliveries to Opal added 6 cents to $2.78, and packages at the PG&E Citygate gained 6 cents to $3.29.

[Subscriber Notice Regarding NGI's Market-Leading Natural Gas Price Indexes]

Forecasters in the Chicago area expected to be busy with near-term developments expected to pummel the area.

"A very active Wednesday-Thursday" was expected on a "multi-faceted system with potential impacts of a late season burst of wet snow, moderate to heavy rain, strong winds, and Lakeshore flooding," the National Weather Service (NWS) said.

Big changes to the Tuesday forecast by the NWS included increasing the area of expected snow on Wednesday for locations mainly in southwest Chicago and issuing a Lakeshore Flood Watch.

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