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Weekend NatGas Steady, But April Futures Make It Six Straight Advances

Weekend and Monday natural gas were mostly steady in Friday's trading as weakness in the Mid-Atlantic and Marcellus was offset by firm markets in Texas and the Gulf Coast.

The NGI National Spot Gas Average was flat at $1.52, and eastern points, on average, were seen about a nickel lower. Futures managed to squeak higher once again to make it six straight advances. At the close April had gained 3.4 cents to $1.822 and May had risen 3.2 cents to $1.915. April crude oil rose 66 cents to $38.50/bbl.

Forecasters were calling for a return to seasonal temperatures at major market centers by Monday, but over the weekend temperatures were seen at least 10 degrees above normal. Wunderground.com predicted the high in Boston Friday of 50 degrees would jump to 60 by Saturday before dropping to 44 Monday, the norm. New York City's Friday high of 68 was expected to slide to 60 Saturday before dropping further Monday to 48, the seasonal norm. Chicago's Friday maximum of 50 was anticipated to climb to 54 Saturday and reach 57 by Monday, 12 degrees above normal.

New England prices were mixed, but Mid-Atlantic quotes softened. Gas at the Algonquin Citygate fell a penny to $1.11, and packages on Iroquois, Waddington rose 22 cents to $1.85. Deliveries to Tenn Zone 6 200L shed 5 cents to $1.19.

Weekend and Monday packages at Texas Eastern M-3, Delivery fell 18 cents to 85 cents, and gas bound for New York City on Transco Zone 6 fell 14 cents to 88 cents.

In the Midwest quotes firmed. Gas on Alliance rose 2 cents to $1.76, and deliveries to the Chicago Citygate also added a penny to $1.78.. Gas on Michigan Consolidated changed hands 4 cents higher to $1.81, and deliveries to Consumers were unchanged at $1.76.

Mild weather and low usage by customers has a Michigan marketer thinking they may not be buying spot gas anytime soon. "I think we have more than we want. It's been a very warm time and next week is supposed to be warm. We may not buy for a while." he said. "The pipelines tell us we can't withdraw more than they allow, but that has not been a problem."

Analysts see the market's recent strength as a response to earlier oversold conditions.

"The stage for the ongoing price advance appears to have been set by the April contract's ability to hold support at the $1.61 level at the start of the week," said Jim Ritterbusch of Ritterbusch and Associates in a Friday morning note to clients. "The advance was accentuated this week by violation of a down trend line that extended back to the beginning of last month. The market had become oversold technically to the point that even minor supportive headlines have proven capable of forcing a substantial spree of short-covering. Most of the outlooks have been gradually favoring some below-normal temperature trends that should be moving into the nation's Midcontinent later next week with some overnight freezing temperatures expected within the upper Midwest.

"While we don't view this cool start to the official spring period as altering the supply-demand balances appreciably, it could potentially slow injections at the start of the shoulder period. Nonetheless, a whopping supply surplus of more than 900 Bcf against last year and some 725 Bcf versus five-year averages will be offering a huge obstacle toward sustainable price gains. And although producers may be reluctant to establish short hedges at current price levels, a huge supply overhang will require some hedge placement amid an environment in which utilities will be reluctant to establish long hedges, especially in the huge price premiums further down the curve."

Gas buyers for ERCOT power generation over the weekend were expecting to have plenty of wind power to offset gas purchases. Forecaster WSI Corp. in its Friday morning report said, "A slow-moving storm system will plague Texas during the next one to two days with additional rounds of rain. Temperatures will range in the mid 50s, 60s and 70s. Fair, dry and much warmer conditions will likely return by Sunday into early next week with highs in the upper 70s and 80s.

"A north-northeast breeze will steadily decrease today into early Saturday. Boosts of elevated wind gen are possible during the weekend into early next week. Output will occasionally peak in excess of 10 GW."

In the six- to 10-day period, WSI said the "forecast is for above-average temperatures across the East, West Coast and desert southwest. Near to below average temperatures are expected over much of the interior west and adjacent portions of the central U.S. Today's forecast is colder over central and eastern U.S., but warmer over the West. CONUS GWHDDs are up 7.1 to 76.2 for the period."

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