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Northeast Buying Leads Broad Advance; Futures Seen Lower

Weekend and Monday gas gained ground in Friday's trading with New England leading the march higher by posting multi-dollar gains.

Most points were solidly in the black and gained about a quarter. A few locations in the Upper Midwest outside the Chicago Citygates slipped into the loss column, but gains were seen in the East, Midcontinent, Rockies and California.

Futures managed to hold on to the bulk of Thursday's gains, and March settled 0.9 cents lower at $5.214 after trading as high as $5.389. April was down 5.5 cents to $4.577, and March crude oil eased a nickel to $100.30/bbl.

Forecasts of steadily declining temperatures over the weekend kept a firm bid under prompt gas at New England points. Forecaster Wunderground.com said, Hartford, CT's Friday high of 35 Friday was expected to hold Saturday, but by Monday the high was seen only reaching 28. The normal high in Hartford at this time of year is 38. Providence, RI's Friday high of 39 was predicted to slide to 36 Saturday and 29 by Monday. The seasonal high in Providence is 40. New Haven, CT's Friday high of 42 was anticipated to slide to 36 Saturday and 30 by Monday, 7 degrees short of its normal high for mid-February.

The National Weather Service in New York City said the northern portions of the East Coast could expect a series of weather events over the weekend. "[R]apidly intensifying low pressure will pass to the south and east of the region Saturday into Saturday night. A very weak low moves in and dissipates Sunday afternoon and evening...with strong high pressure building in behind it. This lasts through Monday before quickly shifting offshore Monday night.

"A frontal system moves in late Monday night through Tuesday morning...exiting Tuesday afternoon. This gives way to high pressure from the south and west building in. A series of lows then pass north and west of the region middle to late week."

A Northeast marketer cited the $22 paid for weekend gas at Algonquin as an indication that "there's nothing left in the tank. There is no storage at Dawn."

Buyers have been scrambling of late. In its February Short Term Energy Outlook, the Energy Information Administration (EIA) reported increased imports from Canada (see Daily GPI, Feb. 11). "Imports are 22.8% greater than the same week last year,” EIA said in its Natural Gas Weekly Update. While U.S. natural gas imports in general have declined over the past several years, they still are an important source of supply in times of high demand. This has been particularly true this winter. LNG sendout, while small, has also risen this winter, with supplies this week coming from the Elba Island terminal in Georgia and the Everett terminal in Massachusetts."

The Northeast marketer noted that Algonquin February basis went for $32 and said, "I imagine that people would have sold whatever they could at that price, but March forward Algonquin is $13 to $14 and I don't think that will attract many LNG cargoes [into Canaport] at that price. I don't know if you attract any more cargoes, but it all depends on the price in Brazil and other world ports compared to the Northeast. Who knows, maybe the market will go higher."

The marketer said the high prices for weekend and Monday gas were just buyers going hand-to-mouth. "Everyone is just buying what they need. Nobody gets long at $22 gas."

Weekend and Monday deliveries at the Algonquin Citygates rose by $4.69 to $23.04, and deliveries to Iroquois Waddington gained $2.89 to $16.36. Gas on Tennessee Zone 6 200 L added $3.76 to $21.42.

Rises at Mid-Atlantic points were more subdued. Gas for weekend and Monday delivery to Transco-Leidy added just 2 cents to $2.87, and deliveries to Dominion gained 7 cents to $5.30. Packages on Tetco M-3 Delivery climbed $1.42 cents to $7.31, and gas bound for New York City on Transco Zone 6 jumped $2.74 to $8.97.

Prices in the Midcontinent posted solid gains. Gas on ANR SW rose by 11 cents to $5.37, and at the NGPL Midcontinent Pool weekend and Monday packages gained 16 cents to $5.33. Deliveries to OGT climbed 20 cents to $5.37, and gas on Panhandle Eastern added 8 cents to $5.33.

Futures traders saw the day's lack of further upward movement as indicative of softer pricing early in the week. "I heard the forecast got a little milder for the 10 to 14-day period, so I'm looking for the market to come in a little bit lower on Tuesday, in the front, anyway," said a New York floor trader. "I'm thinking we'll be trading $5.05 to $5.10."

Some weather forecasts turned cooler late in the week. WSI Corp. in its six- to 10-day outlook Friday showed above-normal temperatures throughout the area currently being blasted by freezing rain and snow, but in the 11- to 15-day forecast below-normal temperatures are predicted. "[Friday's six- to 10-day] forecast has trended cooler across the eastern two-thirds when compared to the previous forecast. Confidence remains near to slightly below average standards as model show fair large-scale agreement, but there are a number of technical differences and timing issues at hand.

"Albeit a number of timing issues between the models, which could result in a faster or slower mean progression of the pattern, there remains an overall risk to the warmer side over the East with colder risks to the forecast across the Plains late.

Analysts see a fundamental case for near term lower prices offset by a technical environment pointing higher. In closing comments Thursday, Jim Ritterbusch of Ritterbusch and Associates said he sees the market "discounting one more sizable withdrawal with next week's data. Nonetheless, we are still viewing a significant warm-up during the next couple of weeks as a major inhibitor to further upside price follow-through. At some point, the highly likely dynamic of deficit contraction will need to be prioritized as the main driver of price over low supply levels. Assuming continued warm temperature expectations into next week's forecasts, we can easily build a case for a renewed price downturn to around the $4.50 area per the March contract. 

"While [Thursday's] advance easily exceeded our expectations, we will also acknowledge a lack of significant chart resistance until about the $5.40 area and the psychological impact of a major winter storm currently moving across the northeast region. All in all, we still anticipate much pushing and pulling amidst the conflicting influences of a static factor of low storage levels and the dynamic influence of a major temperature warm-up across the balance of this month."

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