Christmas gifts continued to come early for natural gas futures bears on Monday as the January contract recorded another prompt-month low for the move on reports that the bitter cold engulfing much of the country would be short-lived. In quiet holiday trading, January natural gas put in a low of $5.210 before closing at $5.294, down four pennies from Friday’s finish.

With Chanukah’s start Sunday after sundown and Christmas arriving on Thursday, volumes were light Monday, a trend that was expected to continue throughout the week.

“It was pretty quiet out there on the trading front. We did a little smattering of buying here and there, but it looks like the current cold blast isn’t goosing the market. Any cold weather we’re having right now is being canceled out by the forecasts for much warmer conditions in three to four days,” said a Washington, DC-based broker. “The problem is it is late December and this is the first blast of winter temperatures. The market, which is currently flush with gas, is saying with its action that the winter is not looking very threatening. The six- to 10-day forecasts are calling for above-normal temperatures to come back in.

With the economy still slumping, plenty of gas in storage and unsupportive weather all allowing the downtrend to continue running past most expectations, there does not appear to be a quick fix for the bulls. “We put in a new low for the move Monday, so I am still bearish obviously. The question out there that needs to be answered is what is going to take to snap us out of this,” the broker said. “The dismal economic news continues. Toyota reported its first-ever annual loss on Monday. If they can’t sell cars, then who the hell can?”

Looking at support lines, the broker singled out $5.192 as an important support level. “That was the low from back on Aug. 31, 2007. That was before the huge run-up to $14-plus. Below that, the next level does not come in until $4.050, which is from back in the fall of 2006.”

Ample storage, normal weather and a sagging economy seem sufficient to keep gas prices under pressure. “Even a bullish storage number [last week] was unable to give the gas market a boost. The news remains the same for the gas market: storage levels are adequate, weather is not helping much, and commercial/industrial demand continues to be stagnant. On a trading basis we will hold current positions,” said Mike DeVooght of DEVO Capital.

DeVooght currently advises trading accounts and end-users to stand aside while producers are counseled to hold on to the remainder of a winter $10 put strip established earlier at 65 cents.

As expected, winter weather may not be of much help to the bulls in the near term. The National Weather Service (NWS) predicts below-normal accumulations of heating degree days (HDD) in populous energy markets for the week ended Dec. 27. New England is expected to register 242 HDD, or 20 fewer than normal, and New York, New Jersey and Pennsylvania are seen enduring 225 HDD, or 17 fewer than normal. Ohio, Indiana, Illinois, Wisconsin and Michigan are predicted to have 273 HDD, or two fewer than normal.

Seasonally it’s been about average. The NWS starts tallying HDD from July 1 and for the heating season New England has accumulated 2,050 HDD, or four more than normal, and the Mid-Atlantic states stand at 1,782 HDD, or 23 fewer than normal. The Midwest has accumulated 2,059 HDD, which is 24 more than normal.

Bulls nonetheless are ready. Phil Flynn of Alaron says to “buy January natural gas at $5.10 — stop $4.70.”

Taking stock of the rest of the week, the Energy Information Administration’s natural gas storage report for the week ended Dec. 19 will be released one day early due to the Christmas holiday. The report will go live at noon EST on Wednesday.

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