Thanks to stronger numbers throughout the Midcontinent and West, gains outweighed losses in a mixed cash market Wednesday. Much like the expiring April futures contract, many points didn't stray very far from flat.

Near-flat numbers tended to be most dominant in the Gulf Coast and Midwest. Otherwise, increases ranged from a couple of pennies to 20 cents or so. Northeast citygates led declines that ran as high as a little more than a dime.

Cash traders had some positive guidance Wednesday from the previous day's screen uptick of 14.7 cents, but finding weather-based demand remained rather elusive. Forecasts for Thursday tended to focus on storminess in parts of the Midwest, South and Pacific Northwest (along with Northern California) rather than temperatures that continue to become more appropriate for the fledgling spring season than last week's conditions, which more closely resembled midwinter in some areas.

It's getting increasingly likely that some air conditioning load is surfacing in western sections of the South, where daily highs around 80 degrees are predicted from Thursday into the weekend in Louisiana and Texas, one source noted.

"It's warmed up big-time here," said a utility buyer in the Lower Midwest, adding that he had been sledding around his home around the middle of last week, but temperatures were approaching 70 degrees Wednesday afternoon. The buyer said his company continued to be inactive during the ongoing April bidweek because it still had term contracts "and plenty of storage" to cover its customers' needs.

He noted that Northern Natural Gas will charge penalties for rolling over an excess amount of storage into the rapidly approaching traditional injection season, but after examining the economics the utility will accept the penalties rather than increasing withdrawals to try to meet the pipeline's maximum month-end contract limits. It would cost more than the penalties to replace the storage later, he noted.

A Houston-based marketer said Chicago citygate basis has continued to weaken a little, reporting that he did deals at minus 65 cents Wednesday (a producer had quoted Chicago at minus 62-63 cents Monday). Citygate fixed prices ranged from the high $6.50s to mid $6.60s, he said. He had traded Chicago at the NGI index minus a penny Monday, and although he had done no indexed deals since then, he said he was hearing they strengthened to index plus 2-3 cents "or maybe even higher" Wednesday.

The daily market "is getting really slow" with weather-related demand receding, the marketer went on. Liquidity often gets less near the end of the month as people weigh pulling storage versus buying new production.

A utility buyer in the South said that with his winter term deals ending in a couple of days, he was starting to buy monthly baseload again for April although the company still had a lot of gas in storage. With storage inventories as bearish as they are currently, he said he couldn't help but wonder why next winter's prices are so high, noting that the summer-winter spread at Nymex was more than $3. There wouldn't seem to be any rush in refilling storage this year, he added, "but the cheapest prices are right now" going by the screen. April is a shoulder month, he said, so there's still a possibility of cold weather returning.

"Spring is in the air," Bentek Energy said in reporting that its analysis of pipeline nominations indicated that demand was 5.2 Bcf off the 30-day rolling average of 42.4 Bcf as of Wednesday. "Northeast demand is down 1.0 Bcf from yesterday [Tuesday] and Midwest demand is down 0.6 Bcf," the consulting firm continued. Quite predictably, storage withdrawals are down today [Wednesday] as well as Canadian imports, down 0.2 Bcf and 0.3 Bcf respectively."

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