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Moderate Weather Outlooks Confining Physical NatGas, Futures; May Declines by Couple Pennies

Both physical natural gas and futures drifted lower in uninspired shoulder season trading Monday, with modest strength in physical markets in the Rockies and California unable to offset broader weakness of about a nickel and double-digit setbacks in the Northeast.

Temperature forecasts across the nation were at or above normal on Monday, and the NGI National Spot Gas Average fell 5 cents to $2.96. Futures traders thought the tempered decline was something of a positive, as the futures market continues to hold near recent highs.

At the close, May had slid 2.3 cents to $3.238, and June was off 2.2 cents to $3.309. May crude oil rose 84 cents to $53.08/bbl.

Futures traders contend that the market lost its momentum Friday when it failed to close above $3.27.

"The market lost its momentum and just kind of moved sideways," said a New York floor trader. "Support is $3.19 to $3.21 and it’s holding steady, but a lot of traders are off with spring break. I think the thought is still up, and the market feels supportive, even though it is moving sideways."

Tim Evans of Citi Futures Perspective sees the market "consolidating" and "working to stabilize after Friday's retreat. The updated 11-15 day temperature forecast features relatively somewhat warmer than normal readings across the South that promise some cooling demand, although the overall projected population-weighted degree day accumulations look very similar to a year ago and below the five-year average."

Risk managers are expecting lower prices.

Devo Capital Management’s Mike DeVooght sees the current market strength "based on expectations for a warmer than average summer. We feel as spring approaches and demand continues to be flat, we should see a pullback in natural gas prices.

"On a trading basis, we continue to look for the market to run out of steam at current levels. We think there is a good chance that we could test the lows of late February [$2.52] in the next few months. We will hold current short positions for producers and will look at rallies to the $3.40-$3.50 range for the balance of the year as a selling opportunity."

Temperatures were forecast at or above seasonal norms across the country. Monday's high in New York City of 74 degrees was expected to climb to 78 Tuesday before dropping to 69 on Wednesday, 9 degrees above normal. Chicago's 72 high on Monday was expected to drop to 54 Tuesday and climb back to 57 Wednesday, the seasonal norm. The high in Dallas of 79 on Monday was expected to slide to 72 Tuesday and then climb to 78 Wednesday, 2 degrees above normal.

Marcellus points weakened. Gas on Dominion South shed 13 cents to $2.79, and deliveries to Tennessee Zn 4 Marcellus skidded 14 cents to $2.64. Gas on Transco-Leidy Line came in 11 cents lower at $2.72.

Outside the West, market gains were hard to come by. Gas at the Algonquin Citygate shed 20 cents to $3.10, and deliveries to the Chicago Citygate changed hands 4 cents lower $3.03. Gas at the Henry Hub was quoted a nickel lower at $3.15.

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Midwest weather conditions were active but mostly in the form quick-moving cold fronts. The National Weather Service in Chicago said another cold front was moving off Lake Michigan and "an abrupt shift to northeast winds will occur and quickly stabilize the lower atmosphere" on Tuesday.

A hail threat was expected for a few hours behind the front, with wind gusts up to 30 knots. Winds were expected to move back to the northwest after midnight as the cold front moved through.

Longer term weather forecasts gave traders little in the way of positive developments as the weekend models drifted, leaning toward the demand gain side, and Sunday afternoon "tilted flat or a slight loss," said Commodity Weather Group President Matt Rogers in a note to clients.

Sunday night "edged a bit cooler on the European ensemble across the Midwest and Northeast, especially for the 11-15 day, as the main warmth remains more focused -- and a bit stronger at times -- along the southern tier."

Adding a few more southern cooling degree days and a few more northern heating degree days (HDD) helped to inch the overall total degree day count higher in the 11-15 day forecast, Rogers said, "although some warmer Midwest changes in the six-10 day provide equivalent offset to keep us near flat."

According to data from the National Weather Service (NWS), heating loads in major energy markets are expected to be sharply below normal. NWS said that for the week ended April 15, HDDs in New England are expected to reach just 71, a whopping 74 below normal, and the Mid-Atlantic is predicted to see just 60 HDDs, or 65 fewer than its normal accumulation.

The greater Midwest from Ohio to Pennsylvania should endure only 51 HDDs, or 76 fewer than its normal seasonal tally. No cooling degree days were forecast for New England, the Mid-Atlantic or the Midwest.

The early read on the week's storage report comes in at about the long term average. The Desk Early View survey of 13 traders and analysts found the average was 9 Bcf with a range of plus-5 Bcf to plus-15 Bcf. Last year 1 Bcf was withdrawn, and the five-year average is for at 12 Bcf build, according to The Desk.

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