All Points Fall as April Swing Trading Comes to End

The downhill slope for late-April swing prices got even slipperier in many cases Tuesday. In a delayed response to the expiration-day plunge in May futures and cognizant of the dearth of weather-related load in virtually every market, month-ending prices fell between about a dime and more than half a dollar, with San Juan gas again joining the Rockies in taking the biggest hits.

A June futures uptick of nearly a nickel in its prompt-month debut held no hint of a rally in Wednesday's opening of the May aftermarket for one source. He noted that the crude oil and heating oil contracts for June continued to slide moderately Tuesday, although crude managed to stay above $25/bbl. More important, though, was the fact that outside a bit of chill persisting in the Upper Plains, a tenacious winter season finally appears to have been vanquished, he said.

Traders are seeing evidence of air conditioning load starting to build across the South, but so far it hasn't grown enough to stanch the overall market softness. Houston's high in the mid 80s Tuesday was forecast to be essentially duplicated through Saturday.

In a relative way, the Northeast showed the most "firmness" Tuesday by registering decreases only in the teens. A cool ridge of high pressure moving through the area Tuesday was expected to have high temperatures in the 40s in northern New England. And a Northeast trader said numbers were higher in late deals. However, he attributed the belated rises primarily to "people paying back imbalances to the pipelines" on the month's last flow day rather than to any fundamental demand factor. There's not really that much load in the region, he said, and he thought Tuesday's prices should have been lower than they were. At least variable transportation costs from the Gulf Coast were easily covered, he added.

A Southwest buyer found a different trend in San Juan Basin's Blanco pool, where he was able to pick up a near-deadline package for more than 20 cents less than his Bondad pool purchases. It was "purely a matter of timing" that the unusual "good bargain" Blanco discount to Bondad occurred, said the buyer.

The PG&E citygate and Malin fell more than 30 cents, considerably more than the Southern California border's drop of about a dime. The Northern California points were pressured lower by PG&E projecting during the morning that linepack would rise well above the utility's target levels Wednesday and Thursday, although it did not issue an OFO. The weak market apparently justified the forebearance on an OFO, since PG&E's linepack projections had changed to comfortably within its limits that afternoon.

Bidweek activity was slacking off considerably as little remained left to be done Wednesday. A marketer said he was not seeing all that much baseload buying for May, so people must be "taking quite a few shorts [supply positions] into the month." That means if the weather gets pretty hot and power prices take off, "they should take gas with them," he commented.

It was a "strange bidweek" to one end-user because there "weren't a whole lot of players around, or at least it seemed that way." He indexed all his purchases, but confessed to being "really tempted to pull the trigger" on an ANR Southwest basis offer of minus 40 cents.

In contrast to the severe basis weakness in the Midcontinent, Michigan citygate basis was quite strong in the mid to high plus 20s, nearly a quarter above the comparable Chicago numbers, a marketer said. He and the above end-user attributed the Michigan strength to the state's "huge storage refill market." Michigan probably has more storage capacity than any other single state, the marketer said. He estimated MichCon capacity at about 200 Bcf, Consumers Energy at about 150 Bcf, and "a few Bcf more" in other private-sector projects.

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