East Mixed as Heat Rises in South; Some Spikes in West

As on the preceding Friday, price movement divided roughly on geographical lines again Monday. But this time it was western points seeing mostly strength, while the East turned in a mixed performance with only few points varying much more than a nickel up or down from flat.

A screen dive that was just shy of 20 cents likely will weigh on cash Tuesday, one source said, but that will be counteracted somewhat by Southern air conditioning load starting to approach normal levels for this time of year. Highs in the 80s and 90s are due throughout the region this week.

The Northeast is getting a bit closer to summer-like conditions, but you could hardly tell it, according to a utility buyer in the area. "It was supposed to be sunny and 85 here today [Monday], but it's not making it." Besides, more rain is due to cool things off again over the next couple of days, he added. A rush "to get the storage filled quickly" is creating much of the current demand in the Northeast, the buyer said. His company was still seeing heating load through late last month, but now there's some switching back and forth between air conditioners and heaters, although heater use remains in the lead, he said.

A producer reported being unable to find any business in the Florida market, which is "staying very quiet lately" despite Florida Gas Transmission warning of a "potential" Overage Alert Day notice for Tuesday. Utility buyers in the state told him that a couple of nuclear plants were coming back online, cutting into the need for gas-fired generation, the producer said.

Triple-digit highs in the desert Southwest and cool California coastal temperatures remain weather constants, but otherwise the western picture was shifting. The Pacific Northwest has cooled off again after being unusually warm last week, while thermometers are climbing into the 80s again in the Rockies and other parts of the interior West.

Monday's biggest advances were more than half a dollar in San Juan Basin and at the Southern California border. A lot of San Juan maintenance continues to restrict basin supplies, although it's in a different area from last week, a marketer said. "Hopefully, the worst of it was for Tuesday flows" and available supply should be more plentiful later this week, she added. Also, she reported being told that "some [San Juan] producer had production issues" that backed up gas behind his wells, so that helped boost San Juan numbers. However, she was a bit mystified about the border spike because of sharp falls in West Coast power prices Monday.

The West's only significant softness occurred in the Pacific Northwest and Western Canada due to cooler market-area temperatures.

There was no mystery about the source of Permian Basin price strength, however. With much of Texas registering highs in the 90s, utility electric generation load in the Lone Star state was pulling a lot of Permian gas, the marketer said.

What it called the "Crying Wolf (Heat) Syndrome" is still plaguing many forecasters as a majority of the U.S. remains unseasonably cool, according to an advisory from Weather 2000. "With most central and eastern locations setting coolness records [in] the past six weeks, while other forecasters and outlooks forewarn of heat, this disconnect can be baffling and frustrating...," the consulting firm said. "Outside of the Gulf Coast region, the entire central and eastern thirds of the nation have been uncannily cool since late April. This isn't a little bubble only keeping New England coastal hubs raw, it is a far-reaching hemispheric scale pattern impacting the Atlantic to the Rockies."

It cited a few early June statistics: "New York City is averaging seven degrees below normal, with only two CDDs [cooling degree days] and no days reaching 80! Chicago is averaging seven degrees below normal, with only one CDD and no days reaching 80! Cincinnati is averaging nine degrees below normal, with only six CDDs and no days reaching 80! Kansas City is averaging nine Degrees below normal, with only four CDDs and no days reaching 80! [And] even 'muggy' Atlanta is averaging three degrees below normal, and not one day breaking 85!"

And although the Atlantic scene remains quiet more than a week into the official 2003 hurricane season, Weather 2000 mentioned that "we're keeping our eye on a tropical system way out in the eastern tropical Atlantic. This is the birthplace of the more classic Cape Verde-type storms we usually don't see until much later in the season. Nonetheless, it is worth keeping an eye on since with an underlying favorable environment, this has decent odds (according to our assessments) of becoming a depression or possibly even [Tropical Storm ] 'Bill' later this week."

Citigroup analyst Kyle Cooper said his final estimation for this week's EIA report "looks for a build between 101 and 111 Bcf." He added, "Although the natural gas premium to petroleum products contracted significantly today [Monday], natural gas is still considered extremely expensive in relation to petroleum. We clearly do not believe the historical relationship of a significant petroleum product premium will be re-established any time soon. However, natural gas is still expected to lose substantial value in relation to petroleum in coming weeks."

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