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Northeast Cold Helps Spur Overall Price Gains

With most of its strength concentrated in the Gulf Coast and Northeast, the cash market saw gains at a sizeable majority of points Wednesday but still had quite a few flat to lower numbers in the mix. Weather forecasts more apropos of mid-winter than before in the Northeast helped prompt the gains, aided by a modicum of support from Tuesday's 10.8-cent screen gain.

Wednesday's increases ranged from 2-3 cents to a little more than half a dollar, led by Transco Zone 6's New York City pool. Otherwise, prices were flat to 20 cents or so down, with Midwest citygates essentially flat and most of the drops clustered in the Midcontinent.

After some time with unseasonably mild temperatures, the Northeast will be at or slightly below late-January means Thursday, according to The Weather Channel (TWC). Even as far south as the Mid-Atlantic states, highs are not expected to get above the 40s. Meanwhile, temperatures will reach "ridiculously mild, maybe even record levels in the northern Plains and Upper Midwest," TWC said. Moderation will remain the watchword in the South, and again western freezing will largely be limited to mountainous locations.

Algonquin gave a hint about growing heating load in the Northeast by telling shippers it anticipated having "limited capacity for imbalance payback during the cold weather" forecasted for Thursday.

On the other hand, Northern Natural Gas (NNG) exemplified why there has been so much bearish talk about how moderate the weather is in the middle of the current heating season. Normally its system-weighted temperature at this time of year is 16 degrees, the pipeline said Wednesday. However, here are its short-term projections for system averages: 28 degrees Wednesday, 35 Thursday, 37 Friday and 34 Saturday.

"Maybe they [prices] were too low yesterday?" jested a Gulf Coast producer when asked about the general market firmness. The Nymex uptick Tuesday had some role, he went on, but there was "nothing really significant out there" in the way of weather to explain Wednesday's upticks. "The pond only goes so deep, so maybe we're at a bottom" temporarily in the cash market, he mused. The producer said his company's resident expert is "looking for very bearish day at Nymex" Thursday, adding that "crude [oil] will set the tone."

February basis was continuing to weaken as bidweek officially got under way Wednesday, the producer said. He quoted Transco Station 65 basis around plus 17-18 cents, saying it had dropped a couple of pennies since Tuesday. He expects most traders to be finishing February business on Friday, leaving only "scraps" for after the weekend. He said he was hearing some colder forecasts for February, adding, "I hope they're true" because the market certainly needs that.

A western marketer reported a tendency of bidweek numbers to go lower as trading proceeding Wednesday. Sumas started just above $7.30 before running down to $7.20 (and it probably fell further after he quit trading that point), he said. It was mainly a function of the Nymex weakness, but he saw a little initial resistance to following the screen by physical gas that eventually broke down. Similarly, Malin was as high as $7.42 early but later got as low as $7.19, he said.

The marketer thought it kind of remarkable that his daily Sumas quotes closely matched the bidweek numbers Wednesday, but said Malin was a little stronger in the day market than February gas. "There's not a lot of demand, and a lot of gas to go around," he said in summarizing the Pacific Northwest market. On the storage situation, he said, "Look at Nymex. February is the cheapest month on the [futures] curve, and that's not very conducive to people wanting to use their storage" if not required to do so.

Minerals Management Service (MMS) said 47 companies reported 1,655.58 MMcf/d remaining offline Wednesday in the Gulf of Mexico as a result of Hurricanes Katrina and Rita last year. That represented a decline of 148.88 MMcf/d from Jan. 11, when MMS began to report shut-in statistics every two weeks due to small incremental changes in its previous twice-a-week format. Cumulative deferred production since last Aug. 26 now totals 609.261 Bcf, equivalent to 16.692% of the Gulf's normal yearly gas output of about 3.65 Tcf, MMS said.

Reuters news service said its survey of 22 industry players found withdrawal estimates ranging from 23 Bcf to 90 Bcf, yielding an average guess of 72 Bcf. Analyst Jim Osten of Global Insight predicted a pull of 73 Bcf for the week ending Jan. 20, and projects withdrawals rising to 86 Bcf during the current week. Citing "additional information," Citigroup's Kyle Cooper lowered his storage report estimation to a withdrawal of 72-82 Bcf. He previously had called for a pull of 82-92 Bcf.

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