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Eastern Quotes Rise On Late Weekend Cold; Futures Gain

Physical gas for weekend and Monday delivery on balance posted solid gains in Friday's trading. East and Northeast locations were expected to see another round of plunging temperatures towards the end of the weekend and into Monday, and New England points led the day's advance with double-digit dollar gains.

Those gains along with strength along the Atlantic Seaboard were enough to counter weakness in California and the Rockies. At the close of futures trading April had added 4.2 cents to $4.425 and May was up 4.8 cents to $4.403. April crude oil gained 69 cents to $98.89/bbl.

A seemingly never-ending series of temperature swings was forecast for the Mid-Atlantic and Washington, DC, area. AccuWeather.com meteorologist Courtney Spamer said, "The temperature roller-coaster ride will continue into St. Patrick's Day for the Washington, DC, area. After cloudy skies early Saturday, sunshine breaks through in the afternoon as highs reach the lower 60s."

That all changes and the second half of the weekend, temperatures will be dropping. Despite the sunshine for the first half of the day, temperatures will struggle to reach the mid 40s in the afternoon. "It's the typical roller-coaster ride of March," AccuWeather.com meteorologist Dave Dombek said. "March is notorious for huge temperature swings. The District's normal temperatures this time of year are highs in the middle 50s during the day and lows in the upper 30s at night."

AccuWeather.com predicted that the high in Toronto Friday of 46 would slide to 36 Saturday before falling further Monday to 23. The normal high in Toronto in mid-March is 45. New York City's Friday high of 48 was anticipated to rise to 57 Saturday but plunge to 33 Monday. The seasonal high in the Big Apple is 49. In Arlington, VA, the high Friday of 60 was seen rising to 62 on Saturday before free-falling to 33 on Monday. The normal high in Arlington this time of year is 55.

Quotes for the weekend and Monday at the Algonquin Citygates surged $11.32 to $20.09, and gas at Iroquois Waddington jumped $3.92 to $9.44. Deliveries to Tennessee Zone 6 200 L gained $11.39 to $20.38.

The Marcellus and points west were mixed. On Transco Leidy packages for the weekend and Monday fell 30 cents to $3.14, and on Dominion gas was seen at $4.21, up 14 cents. On Tennessee Zone 4 Marcellus gas changed hands at $2.52, down a dime.

Deliveries to Tetco M-3 added 56 cents to $4.95, and parcels bound for New York City on Transco Zone 6 jumped $2.83 to $8.05.

Observers see active repair and maintenance on pipelines and storage facilities, perhaps hampering an active storage refill. "A lot of pipelines, NGPL being one, have had major issues on their side and everybody's getting down to the [storage] bottom where we have never been before. It seems like we are venturing into parts unknown. We haven't been this empty since 2003, but we had lower storage capacity back then. There were fewer fields," said a Houston industry veteran.

"If you took the starting point and the ending point it might be a bigger difference. I think there will be more issues in New York and other parts of the country as weather will affect the pipe underground. When the thaw comes and water starts rushing through town, things are going to start moving. Everybody would like to be error-free, but you can't control all aspects. These pipes run 24/7, and things do wear out."

Prices in the Rockies eased. Weekend and Monday gas on CIG was seen at $4.16, down 9 cents, and deliveries to the Cheyenne Hub fell 3 cents to $4.25. At Opal gas changed hands at $4.24, down a penny, and on Northwest Pipeline Wyoming quotes came in at $4.18, down 2 cents.

Futures traders are biding their time waiting for favorable buying opportunities. "Since we are not viewing the weather factor as a critical item any more, we are attributing the reversal to some weekend short-covering that could easily be followed by some fresh lows early next week," said Jim Ritterbusch of Ritterbusch and Associates.

"With the approach of the shoulder season, price volatility is likely to remain compressed and option strategies designed to capture premium should be considered. We see the $4.50 level as a point of gravitation going forward and we have laid out expected price parameters between $4.25 and $4.80 in referencing the May contract and looking over the coming five- to six-week time frame.

"At some point, the market will be forced to focus more intently on an exceptionally low season ending supply that still has the potential of slipping below the 900 Bcf mark in our opinion. However, this is a market that should not be chased on the upside as we feel that this week's chart deterioration will be offering more favorable buying opportunities to beneath [Friday's] lows [this] week."

Forecasters are still calling for a cool temperature regime in the East and Midwest, but they admit to a high degree of variability in the models. "A potential late-winter storm system for the eastern Midwest and Mid-Atlantic early [this] week is leading to some demand gains in the forecast for next week as precipitation on Monday cools high temperatures and lingering snow pack issues could slow the next warm-up toward the middle of next week," said Matt Rogers, president of Commodity Weather Group, in the firm's Friday morning report to clients.

"Otherwise, we are still tracking a challenging mixed flow big picture pattern with both colder and warmer pattern influences still mixing things up over much of the U.S. We saw some warmer changes in the Southwest and California in the six-10 day, but even they still cool down later in the six-10 day and during the 11-15. The models continue to go back and forth on the degree of cooling potential in the 11-15 day. The safest cooler-to-colder areas are still the Midwest to Northeast, but even these areas probably see variability."

At WeatherBELL Analytics, Thursday's price drop was considered a function of overall seasonal trends and essentially undisturbed by the bullish 195 Bcf storage draw. "In spite the impressively bullish storage data, prices continued to erode lower amid the markets insistence on sticking with the seasonality of the contract rather than trading off of notably bullish underlying fundamentals," said analyst Alan Lammey. "I have an idea that the bottom is near and that once the $4.20s is achieved, prices will begin to rebound back toward the $4.70s (or perhaps higher) in the weeks ahead."

His figures show that early estimates for next-week's storage report are between 54 Bcf and 59 Bcf. "My model for the gas storage 'carry-out' at the end of March is somewhere in the 840 Bcf to 860 Bcf range.

"Bigger picture technical indicators for April natural gas [show] key support for April gas resid[ing] solidly near the $4.40 to $4.35 area. If violated, look for sellers to test the $4.25 to $4.20 zone, which is considered major support. Because of the vast amount of bullish catalysts and remaining 'unknowns' of the balance of winter, not to mention the potential for summer demand forecasts, it's not likely that prices will trade lower than the $4.20 to $4.10 area for quite some time to come. Key resistance for the April is seen between $4.40 and $4.50, followed by $4.66, $4.74 and $4.799."

Others admit that traders also are focusing on seasonal trends but see a less robust storage build than might be expected. "For now, traders appear focused on the anticipated drop in seasonal demand during the upcoming shoulder season and expectations for record production of gas this year," said Addison Armstrong of Tradition Energy.

"But a heavier-than-normal spring nuclear power plant maintenance and refueling schedule, plus the lowest storage levels since 2003 should provide support for prices. Weather forecasts, after the next week of below-normal temperatures, have shifted slightly warmer for the latter part of this month and the early part of April for Texas and Southeast, while the Midwest and Northeast should continue to see below-normal temperatures."

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