The late winter storm that dumped snow Sunday night into Monday morning over much of the Eastern Seaboard was easily trumped by a fresh dose of bleak economic indicators, which helped to push April natural gas futures on Monday to close at $4.152, down 4.6 cents from Friday’s finish.

“I think the stock market once again is the leader of the pack,” said a Washington, DC-based broker. “Negative economy news was enough to drown out some pretty cold temps and the announcement by Chesapeake Energy that the company is shutting in wells” (see related story). “I think those two bullish items were the only reasons the natural gas futures market wasn’t as devastated as, say, crude futures.”

The Dow Jones Industrial Average plunged once again on Monday and recorded its first settle below 7,000 in almost 12 years, which helped April crude futures drop $4.61 to finish Monday’s regular session at $40.15/bbl.

The broker said she believes traders are pretty comfortable in this $4.000 to $4.250 range. “Support at $4 appears to be pretty formidable, but we are forecast to see a warming trend here in the near term,” she said. “We are getting into the spring, the Dow doesn’t look great and the economy is still weak, but $4 I think will be a pretty tough nut to crack. As long as the Dow continues to make new lows, that $4 gas price level will become more and more vulnerable. If the Dow stops its continued drop, we think $4 should hold.”

Some analysts see the gas market at a low. “It seems like the gas market is trying to establish a floor here, but we are going to have to see some closes above $4.500 before we will have any confidence that a bottom is in place,” said Mike DeVooght of DEVO Capital, a Colorado trading and risk management firm. “On a trading basis we are going to start to probe the gas market from the long side for speculators and end-users. We will purchase October at $4.500-4.750 or on a close above $4.900. For short hedgers we are going to stand aside at this time.”

Economy watchers were pleased with the Monday release of January personal income figures from the Commerce Department. Expectations were for a decline of 0.2%, the same as December, but the actual figure was a positive 0.4%.

In the near term, weather bulls may have the upper hand if WSI Corp.’s forecast holds up. In its morning six- to 10-day forecast WSI of Andover, MA, said “colder-than-normal temperatures are forecast over the western and north-central U.S. Warmer-than-normal readings are expected to remain confined to the Gulf Coast States.” It went on to say that temperature anomalies of as much as 10 degrees below normal were anticipated over the northern Plains.

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