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Most Points Up Slightly in Mixed-Price Market

Price movement was mixed Thursday but displayed a distinct bias toward the upside. Significant heating load was scarce across much of the South, but increasing in the Northeast and West while mostly standing pat in the Midwest. The cash market also had support from a March futures contract that has been on the rise since the previous Thursday.

Declines of up to about a dime were concentrated in the West and the Gulf Coast. Otherwise, quotes ranged from flat to about 30 cents higher, with Northeast citygates tending to see the biggest gains.

The Energy Information Administration's estimate of a 223 Bcf storage withdrawal during the week ending Feb. 16 was in line with consensus expectations centered around the mid 220s Bcf. It marked the third weekly pull of more than 200 Bcf in a row, but the current week's relatively moderate weather in most areas and near-term forecasts for more of the same make it unlikely that the 200 Bcf-plus streak will get extended in next week's report. Nymex traders accorded Thursday's report a slightly bullish response in taking an initially softer March futures contract to more than a nickel higher as of mid-afternoon.

One source pointed out that cash gas at Henry Hub has traded at an often substantial premium to March futures for most of February and only returned to its customary position behind the screen this week.

Above average temperatures in the South are expected to persist into early next week, according to The Weather Channel. However, it will still feel like winter this weekend in the Northeast, Midwest and West, with snowfalls predicted in parts of all three regions. Denver was expected to go from a low around freezing Thursday to the 25-degree area Friday.

Weather 2000 held out some encouragement for market bulls, saying that although some forecasts are calling for moderate temperatures in March, it believes that one of the top three coldest Februarys since 1950 will be followed by a wintery and stormy March. National Weather Service outlooks and models are already starting to concede the potential for such a forecast, the New York City-based consulting firm said. A broad, colder pattern centered on the heart of the U.S. will emerge heading into March, Weather 2000 added. "Anticipate a very fast-moving national flow, with lots of cross-continent storm tracks and much more week-to-week and intra-week volatility than we have seen in previous months this winter. There are still tremendous stores of polar and arctic air in Canada that can, and will, be tapped into by...synoptic low-pressure systems."

The Texas-based marketing representative for several independent producers noted that most of the South's heating load has disappeared, "so we can only hope" that the region's current mild weather is a sign that power generation demand for air conditioning will be rising soon. He perceived a slow start to bidweek with few calls for March supply Thursday, but said he did manage to get a majority of the company's March gas placed, doing everything at index as usual. Early on it's looking fairly strong, he said, with Panhandle Eastern trading at index plus a penny. Also, Waha started out at index minus 2 cents but had strengthened to index flat by mid-afternoon Thursday, he said. However, Waha basis appeared to be weakening a bit, averaging minus 68 cents but falling to minus 75 cents in the most recent deal he had seen. He also quoted basis of minus 95 cents for CenterPoint East.

A marketer in the Upper Midwest had nothing to report for bidweek, saying her company was "not quite ready" to do any March deals yet. Besides, no one was calling about March business anyway, "and we usually wait until futures expiration day to make our move." The marketer said her company was "not thrilled" about futures moving higher for a fifth straight day. "We have been putting off any new purchases until the weekend when prices were expected to be lower," she said, but now she's not so sure about lower prices Friday. She noted that temperatures were still getting below freezing in the area at night.

A West Coast source also thought trading for March baseload was getting off to a slow start, saying that apparently "a lot of people are waiting to see where the Nymex goes." Purchasers don't like the numbers they're seeing, he continued. (March futures closed 8.1 cents higher Thursday at $7.727, nearly 80 cents above February's settlement at $6.937.) There also seems to be an effort by suppliers to move index premiums higher, he said.

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