A majority of the cash market Monday continued the price softness that had set in across the board for weekend numbers, with declines ranging from a couple of pennies to about 30 cents, although most were limited to single digits. Unseasonably mild temperatures dominated the weather picture in most of the East outside of the Upper Plains region near the Canadian border.

However, patches of modest firmness showed up Monday in areas where some degree of heating load was occurring or expected -- namely, the Midcontinent, California and the Rockies/Pacific Northwest. California was solidly flat, while small gains at some points in the other two regions ran as high as a little more than a nickel on CIG.

Light snows were expected Tuesday in parts of the Rockies and the western reaches of the Midwest, but nothing severe is likely. What The Weather Channel termed "a rather potent cold front" is due in the Northeast Wednesday, but temperatures will be balmy ahead of it Tuesday.

Meanwhile, it was almost like spring had already sprung in the South. Houston was typical of the region in anticipating highs in the upper 70s Monday and Tuesday before getting a slight cooldown at midweek.

Recovery from the Gulf of Mexico shut-ins caused by Hurricane Ivan last September took a giant leap forward recently, as Minerals Management Service reported Monday that remaining outages had fallen to 146.5 MMcf/d. That's a plunge of 342.89 MMcf/d from its tally of 489.39 MMcf/d on Jan. 31. Cumulative deferred gas production since Sept. 11, 2004 reached 172.259 Bcf, or 3.871% of normal yearly production from the Gulf, MMS said.

Monday's report was the last one on Ivan shut-ins. The federal agency noted that of the remaining 126,090 bbl/d of shut-in oil production, a few deepwater facilities accounted for about 60%, and their operators "tentatively" expect to be back online by the end of the first quarter. "Because there will be few weekly changes as a result of these plans, this is the last update on shut-in production that MMS will issue," it said.

Those who look to the screen for cash market guidance were out of luck. As it did twice last week, the March natural gas futures contract barely budged -- actually, it didn't budge at all this time, winding up unchanged at $6.093 after spending the day in negative territory. The action in Nymex's petroleum product offerings was similarly torpid, with crude oil futures seeing a modest gain and the heating oil and unleaded gasoline contracts down slightly.

"Monday was pretty much like the last 12 to 13 trading sessions we've seen," said a Northeast trader. In other words, he went on, there was light activity and light loads, along with "loose" transport conditions (no significant pipeline constraints). The market has been in a doldrums period recently, the trader said, and he didn't see anything at this point that might shake it up.

Analyst Kyle Cooper of Citigroup made a final estimation of a 102-112 Bcf withdrawal to be reported in the storage report for the week ending Feb. 11. Unfortunately a high degree of uncertainty still remained, Cooper added, but at least "the final model projections are closer to each [other] than on Friday."

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