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Weekend Prices Rebound at Majority of Points

Was it a case of "you can't keep a good market down?" Following two days of mostly falling prices, which reflected the general bearishness of market influences, cash quotes for the weekend rallied at a majority of points Friday.

Firmness wasn't universal, as quite a few points were flat to down about 15 cents. The gains ranged from a minuscule 2-3 cents to about 30 cents; most were in single digits.

Although most areas outside the West entered the weekend under fairly mild conditions, they could expect to start this week with cooling trends under way. One trader was still mystified about the overall up day for prices for Friday, though, saying the colder weather would not significantly increase heating load.

However, a Midcontinent producer considered the cash rally as primarily screen-driven. Look at it this way, he said: April futures were slipping as low as $6.48 during cash trading Thursday, "but it was $6.71 [in Access] when we walked in this [Friday] morning." He felt the difference provided a psychological boost to the cash market.

The West, which was due to remain cold and stormy throughout much of its area over the weekend, didn't lack for enough heating load to bolster prices there. And although the Midwest had a warming trend under way late last week, snow was forecast in several sections of that region for the weekend.

The Northeast was warm enough Friday to set date-specific record highs in about a dozen locations Friday, with peak temperatures in the 70s from New York City to Washington, DC, according to The Weather Channel (TWC). A cooldown was set to begin Saturday, but it would leave highs still 10-15 degrees above seasonal averages, TWC said. However, a more significant cold front was forecast to move into the region at the beginning of this week.

Spring was still sprung through the weekend, as far as the South was concerned. But even it will be turning a bit cooler early this week with the arrival of a cold front from the Plains states.

The Midcontinent producer said "a little bit of a short squeeze" on prices late Thursday had provided some impetus for Friday's increases. And late Friday numbers also were rising due to the screen's show of strength, he said. There's still not that much heating load up north, though, he said.

The producer noted that relatively little Rockies production was moving into Midcontinent/Midwest markets last week "because most of it was being kept at home" due to cold western weather. That resulted in a sizeable tightening of Midcontinent/Gulf Coast basis, he said. For example, Panhandle Eastern went into the March 4-5 weekend $1.13 below Henry Hub; for this past weekend, the Hub-Panhandle Eastern spread was about 83 cents, a contraction of 30 cents.

Florida utilities were buying fairly large quantities Friday, a Houston-based marketer said, which he assumed was likely due to rising air conditioning load in the Sunshine State, where highs in the low-to mid-80s were predicted for Saturday. The Chicago citygate started a little weakly, but traders with short supply positions came out buying later there, he said. The marketer reported that Nicor was not allowing any weekend storage injections at its Chicago Hub, noting that all of the utility's storage service is interruptible.

The gas buyer for a utility served by TGT said his company was focused on reaching TGT's revised storage withdrawal target, adding that the new number (45% of account volume out by April 1) was not nearly as severe as the pipeline's normal tariff requirement of 68%. "We haven't been buying any spot gas lately; in fact, we've been selling some whenever we can," he said. By virtue of the utility's pipeline connections, it can sell into Midwest markets as well as in the production area, "and that's been a godsend because the citygate prices are much stronger than those in Texas," he said.

Kern River reminded customers of a whopping 780 MMcf/d cut in Wheeler Ridge delivery capacity into the Southern California Gas system Sunday through Friday of this week due to the utility's scheduled maintenance on its Line 225 (see Daily GPI, March 1). In addition to that reduction and the allocation of capacity at other border points that it necessitates, Kern River said SoCalGas will reduce storage injections at its Honor Rancho facility by 250 MMcf/d and slash withdrawals by 1 Bcf/d during the same period.

The huge reduction of Wheeler Ridge capacity appeared to have had no appreciable effect Friday on Southern California border prices for the weekend. They were up about a nickel, a gain that was common among western points.

Most of the U.S. will be turning colder from the middle of this week onward, according to the National Weather Service. Its forecast for the March 15-19 period calls for below normal temperatures everywhere from Arizona and California northward and north of a line running horizontally from the northeast edge of New Mexico through southeastern North Carolina. The only place where the agency expects above normal readings during that time is throughout most of Texas (excluding the Panhandle and extreme western corner) and in the southwest corner of Louisiana.

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