Prices that were flat to about 15 cents higher at several western points averted a clean sweep of cash market softness Monday. Overall, traders responded to prospects for spring-like weather with little heating load in most areas this week, along with Friday's futures dip of 15.6 cents, by pushing prices anywhere from a couple of pennies to about 45 cents lower at a solid majority of points. Many of the largest losses were concentrated at Midwest and Northeast citygates.

Chances of a substantive cash rally this week are considered slim with mostly bearish weather forecasts remaining in effect and the April futures contract having further shed 17.1 cents in Monday's regular session.

Though most regions have warmed up enough to eliminate most of their heating demand, temperatures haven't risen high enough to generate much power generation demand for air conditioning. However, one area where that isn't true is the desert Southwest. Thermometer levels climbed well into the 90s Sunday in Arizona and Southern California, according to The Weather Channel, and should keep reaching the 80s and 90s for the rest of the week. That helps explain why San Juan Basin and Southern California quotes rose nearly a dime.

Southern California Gas and Pacific Gas & Electric issued single-day high-linepack OFOs during the weekend (see Transportation Notes), but neither was still in effect Monday. And Kern River, which had been reporting high linepack systemwide Friday, said linepack was back to normal in its two farthest downstream segment but remained high in the two farthest upstream segments.

Daytime temperatures will remain rather chilly in the 30s and 40s in areas along the Canadian border in the Northeast and Midwest, but more southerly parts of those regions should be seeing more moderate conditions with highs in the 60s and 70s -- and possibly 80s -- this week.

Last week's blast of cold that was more intense than expected in the Northeast is likely to boost the volume in the upcoming storage withdrawal report above the 102 Bcf pull in for the week ending March 2. Some early estimates of the report for the week ending Feb. 9 are in the 120s Bcf, but analysts think this will be the last large withdrawal of the rapidly waning season.

A Texas-based marketer was unable to see anything on the market horizon that suggested the possibility of rebounding physical prices. "It looks like we're in for softer prices for a while now," she said. "If I were a producer, I'd say prices were 'tanking.'" Trading appears to be entering "a very quiet period," she added.

A utility buyer in the South said his company is looking to enter into an April-October supply contract. TGT, one of the pipelines serving the utility, still has an OFO in effect mandating specific reductions in storage volumes by March 31, but a waiver for certain customers (including the utility) only requires them to use up 50% of their account by then instead of the normal 68%, he said. Thanks to the recent cold snaps, "we're in good shape" on using storage and shouldn't have any trouble reaching the 50% level, he said.

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