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Prices Fall as Screen Dive Outweighs Cold

As a producer predicted, Monday's screen plunge of 61.8 cents was able to more than offset this week's surge of colder weather and induce falling cash prices at all points Tuesday. High comfort levels with storage inventories contributed to the bearishness.

A further decline of 13.7 cents in March natural gas futures Tuesday, along with steep declines in Nymex's petroleum-based offerings, likely will keep spot gas on the run Wednesday, although one source saw an outside chance of mild firmness.

Tuesday's drops ranged from about 20 cents to a little more than 55 cents on what a marketer characterized as a slow trading day. The Gulf Coast tended to lead the downward procession.

Other than widespread precipitation coming almost to a halt, the weather outlook for Wednesday shows little change. Lake-effect snows will be clearing up in the Northeast, while Midwest snowfalls would be little more than a dusting, according to The Weather Channel. Both regions could expect temperatures at or slightly below mid-winter norms. Conditions in the South will be fairly moderate to the west but colder east of the Mississippi River. The West should be almost totally dry and have freezing temperatures in the upper Rockies, but could set date-specific records for highs in parts of the Southwest, The Weather Channel said.

Henry Hub and the screen had overshot each other in a convergence attempt Monday, when Hub strength and major Nymex weakness resulted in a Hub premium of a little more than a quarter. Tuesday's trading restored a more normal relationship with the screen regaining a spread premium of about 13 cents.

A Texas-based marketer said that if Access activity continued to move March futures higher, as it was doing to a small degree Tuesday afternoon, cash prices could see a little bit of firmness Wednesday, but if it doesn't, expect more softness. Even though there is lots of storage available, his company was still seeing a fair amount of current-burn demand, he said. Tennessee was curtailing its 200 and 300 Lines in the market area, he said, which limited gas coming both out of storage and from the production area.

Overall prices were moving higher as trading proceeded Tuesday morning, the marketer continued. Chicago citygates tended to track Nymex movement while trading mostly in the mid to high $7.40s, he said. Nicor has lifted all of the delivery restrictions that have vexed many traders in recent weeks, he said, and Nicor prices had a significant premium Tuesday over NIPSCO quotes using NGPL as the delivery pipe.

A utility buyer in the central U.S. said his company has started to get some weather help in helping it use up storage; the question was, how long will the colder temperatures stick around? He said St. John's Compressor Station maintenance was creating some constraints on ANR storage coming out of Michigan when the utility tries to flow it on a secondary basis.

A Gulf Coast producer said the weather is "gorgeous" pretty much all around Texas, so there was little intrastate demand. Temperatures are chilly overnight but get comfortable by midday, she said.

Ron Denhardt of Strategic Energy & Economic Research projects storage withdrawals for the week ending Feb. 3 at 68 Bcf, which he said compares -- bearishly once again -- with a withdrawal of 177 Bcf last year and a five-year average pull of 180 Bcf. "Colder than normal weather is expected in the second week of February," Denhardt said. "However, it is likely to be too little too late. Working gas storage is likely to end March at over 1,500 Bcf and possibly set an all-time record.

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