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Long-Range Pattern Uncertain as December Natural Gas Called Lower

December natural gas futures were trading at $4.074/MMBtu shortly before 9 a.m. ET Monday, down 23.4 cents from Friday’s settle as forecasters were pointing to an uncertain outlook for temperatures toward the second half of next month.

Bespoke Weather Services observed long-range milder risks in the latest data.

“Weekend weather model guidance finally picked up on the moderating trends we expect to dominate into the middle of December, as a far less favorable Pacific sees an upper level low likely form in the Gulf of Alaska that can quickly warm the country after a very strong cold shot through the first week of the month,” Bespoke analysts said. “This fits with most analogs and expectations, as we had expected the forecasts in December to warm for at least the middle third of the month as upstream forcing responsible for much of the recent cold looks to ease.

“The cold shot coming late in the first week of December does look to be quite intense, and we could see further cold trends there briefly given a favorable atmospheric setup for a significant discharge of Arctic air, but beyond there confidence is now quite high in the pattern easing mid-month,” and leaving gas-weighted degree days to fall back below average.

With both the Global Forecast System (GFS) and European models showing a mild break over the East this coming weekend followed by cold across much of the country Dec. 5-10, NatGasWeather said recent forecasts haven’t justified the drop in prices over the past few sessions.

“There remain differences on exactly how cold and which regions will be impacted Dec. 5-10, but a swing back to strong national demand is likely,” the forecaster said. “There are also differences around Dec. 11-14 where some of the datasets believe another milder spell will follow, while another camp favors cold air finding ways to linger across the northern and eastern U.S...So certainly not a bearish pattern, but clearly not impressive enough for the natural gas markets to prevent prices from shedding another 25 cents at the open.”

NatGasWeather said it viewed the heavy selling since last week’s bullish Energy Information Administration storage report was because of a combination of nonweather factors, including reports showing higher weekend production and the impending expiration of the December contract, along with technical factors.

EBW Analytics Group CEO Andy Weissman said the agreement between the American and European models over the latest 15-day outlook period means “the potential severe cold outbreak during the first half of December is over, sending prices lower. A test of support for the December contract at $4.00 is likely this morning.

“December weather remains key,” Weissman said. “Signals for the second half of December are mixed. Stratospheric warming, which triggers blocking, is increasing the odds that an already cold forecast may trend colder,” but the Madden-Julian oscillation cycle indicates warming. “Until this sorts out, the price trajectory for natural gas is uncertain.”

January crude oil was trading 88 cents higher at $51.30/bbl shortly before 9 a.m. ET, while December RBOB gasoline was up about 3.1 cents to $1.4226/gal.

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