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Most Points Fall Slightly as Weather Load Diminishes

It was no mirage that the smaller gains and growth of larger losses in Wednesday's pricing signaled weakening of this week's rebound (see Daily GPI, April 14). Only a few scattered instances of flat numbers were left out of an overall downturn in the spot market Thursday. The chillier weather that had sparked a rally at most points from Monday through Wednesday had faded enough to lose its price-boosting ability, and the southern third of the U.S. is not yet hot enough to create compensating power generation demand.

Losses were fairly minor; all were in single digits as they ranged from 2-3 cents to nearly a dime. A gain of about 15 cents at the Florida citygate, where highs were still reaching the mid 80s even after Florida Gas Transmission had lifted an Overage Alert Day on Wednesday, was an aberration among quotes that otherwise were essentially flat.

Following two bearish failures to match up with prior expectations in its weekly storage reports, the Energy Information Administration (EIA) missed again Thursday, but this time it was considered bullish. The EIA said 28 Bcf was injected during the week ending April 8, well below consensus estimates in the mid 30s Bcf and only 1 Bcf above the comparable five-year average. May futures, which had been in negative territory prior to the report, responded with an upward push and ended the day with an increase of 7.1 cents (see related story).

There was enough remaining cold to generate snowfalls continuing through Thursday night in several sections of the Upper Plains and mountain areas of the West. The Northeast was part of the overall softness despite a cooling trend starting Friday. Otherwise, gradual warming or static mercury levels were in the forecast for most other areas.

Other than a few maintenance-related constraints, pipeline capacity restrictions are close to nil for now after Westcoast ended a high-linepack OFO.

In keeping with the relatively small changes in pricing, IntercontinentalExchange (ICE) found little variation in trading activity from Wednesday to Thursday on its online platform at most points. A glaring exception was at the PG&E citygate, which despite slipping about 2 cents in price soared to the whopping level of 2,243,300 MMBtu from 1,950,700 MMBtu a day earlier (NGI's own survey reflected a citygate volume of 3,763,000 MMBtu). Another of the larger changes was in El Paso's San Juan-Blanco pool, which despite falling about a nickel saw ICE volumes rise from 371,200 MMBtu to 478,600 MMBtu.

A buyer for a western utility said temperatures in its service area had gotten close to 90 during the past weekend but were significantly cooler Thursday. He noted that some of the region's upper mountain areas were getting snowfalls, but it wasn't a factor in his locale.

The buyer said he doubted whether his utility would see much from now on in the major temperature fluctuations that have dominated April weather so far. "Until we get into summer heat," it should be a pretty quiet market for the next few weeks, he added.

The buyer reported not having heard anything recently about development of what is considered to be badly needed storage capacity in the desert Southwest. A couple of proposals were being floated a year or two ago, he said, but they seem to have faded away. The hangup with one near Phoenix apparently was connected with the dearth of water supplies in the arid region.

A marketer in the Upper Midwest said she had to turn on her air conditioner for a short while last weekend when temperatures reached 80, but it was much cooler (but not especially cold) by Thursday. She said her company was buying more spot gas than usual this week -- not because of any significant increases in heating load by clients but because it went into the month "light on baseload" supply.

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