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Influences Generally Weak, But Most Points Up Anyway

At least one source likened the cash market to a magician. Despite mostly moderate weather fundamentals, bearish storage conditions and a 24.3-cent screen drop on the previous day, it was able to pull a mostly higher-priced "rabbit" out of its hat Tuesday.

Granted, the overall gains were fairly modest in a majority of cases and were mixed with several flat to slightly lower points, the source said. Still, the fact that quotes were able to rise at all in the face of generally negative influences, especially with slight warming trends in northern market areas expected to be under way through the end of the week, seemed somewhat uncanny, he said.

South and East Texas numbers tended to record the largest gains in a range from 2-3 cents to a little more than a quarter. The losses were pretty minuscule; however, declines of a little more than a nickel by both the Zone SL and Zone 1 pools of Texas Gas Transmission. A pipeline Gas Control staffer explained that late last week TGT had notified storage customers that they must take their account volumes down to 55% levels by April 1 or face the possibility of an OFO. That meant current-burn demand on TGT is largely being replaced by storage withdrawals, one market source commented.

In spite of Tuesday's overall price advance, all points continued to experience double-digit deficits to first-of-month indexes, with Northwest domestic numbers having fallen the least (about 40 cents).

Forecasts of light snows Wednesday in parts of the Midwest, along with upper 20s highs in northern New England and winter storm warnings for the Upper West, meant that heating load is still around. But although nothing was believed to be severe enough that most of it couldn't easily handled by storage withdrawals, obviously there was some demand for new production. Meanwhile, most of the South except for along the East Coast was forecast to continuing experiencing above normal temperatures for late winter, with Wednesday highs in the 80s due for parts of Oklahoma and Texas.

Tennessee remains by far the hardest hit pipeline from remaining Hurricane Katrina/Rita supply losses, according to analysis of Gulf of Mexico production flows by Bentek Energy. Tennessee's nominated offshore Louisiana volumes Tuesday were 1,025 MMcf/d below Aug. 26, 2005 flows of 1,946 MMcf/d, just before Katrina struck, Bentek said. Transco losses were next greatest at 466 MMcf/d, followed by the Venice Gas Plant's deficit of 219 MMcf/d, it added. (The plant remains offline, but some production on the Venice Gathering System is being diverted to other facilities, a Bentek executive said.) Texas Eastern's drop of 184 MMcf/d from pre-Katrina levels topped all other offshore deficits in the Louisiana Gulf Coast area, the consulting firm said, while offshore Texas losses were generally small in being topped by Transco's 77 MMcf/d Tuesday.

A marketer noted little change from Monday in Henry Hub-Northeast basis spreads and said the Northeast's heating degree day count also was close to flat. Even with a 13.1-cent futures increase Tuesday, he looks for softer cash numbers Wednesday, saying Northeast temperatures will rise considerably in the next few days. He perceived no substantive movement as trading proceeded, saying prices "mostly chopped sideways in a fairly tight range." The screen may be searching for some short-term bottom lately, he said, but it won't get any cash help for at least a week or more, if then.

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