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Choppy Cash Market Movement, Except for the West

Consensus was hard to find among natural gas cash market traders Monday as the recent trend of squirrelly back-and-forth futures trading left cash points all over the board for delivery on Tuesday. Most regions saw a healthy mix of gains and losses on Monday, with the exception of the Rockies and the West Coast, which were uniformly higher.

Cash market averages up and down the East Coast were a perfect example of Monday's mixed action. Most eastern points gained or declined by a few pennies to a nickel, while points along the Gulf Coast revealed mostly gains of a few pennies with a few negligible declines mixed in.

Despite all of the uncertainty elsewhere, minds were made up in the Rockies and the West, which saw across-the-board gains mostly within the neighborhood of a nickel to 15 cents.

The uncertainty displayed in most of Monday's cash trading could be attributed in part to the recent roller-coaster of natural gas futures values. After tumbling 17.3 cents on Thursday and gaining 8.3 cents on Friday, July natural gas futures on Monday returned lower once again, declining by 11.1 cents to close the regular session at $4.646.

Citi Futures Perspective analyst Tim Evans said natural gas price watchers are following weather forecasts and keeping tabs on gas demand figures for power generation. "The natural gas market has tipped back to the downside on weather forecasts that, while looking somewhat warmer than on Friday, still feature some moderation for the weeks ahead and at least a few near-average storage injections in the mix," said Evans.

As for gas demand for power generation, the analyst noted that the recent jump of 2,785 MW in nuclear power output has boosted the overall U.S. nuclear power industry's operating rate to 91%, which is almost spot on with the five-year average performance. "As we've been noting, rising nuclear generation from a deeper-than-normal cycle of spring refueling and maintenance outages was going to offset some marginal utility demand for natural gas," Evans said. "With today's [Nuclear Regulatory Commission] report it looks as though the nuclear industry is fully back to its normal seasonal track."

Looking ahead, temperatures look to be supportive in the very near future. According to Frontier Weather, the six- to 10-day forecast covering June 18-22 is calling for warmer-than-normal conditions in northern California and from the Rio Grande to the Great Lakes and on through the East Coast.

While the official 2011 Atlantic hurricane season kicked off on the first of the month, traders should be able to rest easy to start the week. The forecasting service said the Atlantic Basin is mostly quiet with one tropical wave moving toward the northern coast of South America. Frontier Weather said the wave was "expected to reach land without significant development."

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