Looking beyond what was expected to be relatively mild weekend weather to the return of cooler conditions in the first half of this week in northern market areas, traders moved prices higher Friday at a solid majority of points to get the April aftermarket off to a moderately strong start. However, one source thought buying for storage injections was a more potent factor than temperature forecasts in the overall market strength.

The decline of industrial load during a weekend was less of a factor than usual, since Friday's deals were for Sunday-Monday flows only due to the transition into April happening Sunday.

The few cases of backsliding by as much as about 30 cents occurred in the Rockies, Gulf Coast and Midcontinent/Midwest. A few scattered points were flat, while increases ranged from a couple of pennies to about half a dollar.

As a western trader had expected (see Daily GPI, March 29), warming trends in Northern California led PG&E to issue a high-inventory OFO for Saturday (see Transportation Notes). She was mistaken, though, in thinking that SoCalGas was about to end its own OFO. The SoCalGas high-linepack OFO entered its third week of existence when the giant LDC extended it through at least Saturday. Despite the OFOs, California delivered prices joined in Friday's general bullishness as the PG&E citygate and Southern California border rose by a little more than 15 cents and a little more than 40 cents, respectively.

San Juan Basin numbers also appeared to be unfazed by the twin OFOs in their chief market area, as El Paso's Bondad and Blanco pools both were up about 40 cents.

Rockies trading was particularly volatile, with some points seeing dollar-plus price ranges.

The Northeast and Midwest are forecast to see temperatures starting to dip again around Monday or Tuesday, with considerably colder conditions fully established by Wednesday. A new cold front about that time will set the Northeast up for what should be a "very chilly" Easter weekend, according to The Weather Channel (TWC).

A cold front was expected to be moving into the western end of the South by Saturday evening and proceeding eastward Sunday, but rather than creating any heating load, the front more likely would limit any budding power generation demand for air conditioning. Still, Southern temperatures would remain well above average for this time of year throughout the region, TWC said.

Most of the snow in the forecast for the coming week will remain in mountainous areas of the West. By midweek temperatures five to 15 degrees above average are due to have returned to the desert Southwest and Far West.

A Northeast marketer was unimpressed by the predictions for lower temperatures in his market area, saying they were "not that much of a big deal." However, he added that other people must have expected enough heating load to raise prices Friday. Late buying seemed to be heavier than usual, he noted. Traders should have a much better picture of how the April aftermarket is shaping up after the weekend, the marketer said.

For a Midcontinent producer, purchases for storage injections had more to do with Friday's overall price strength than approaching increases in heating demand.

A utility buyer in the Lower Midwest suggested another influence on rising prices Friday -- although crude oil futures softened a bit for the first time in eight trading sessions Friday, he thought cash gas was finally riding the coattails of crude price strength earlier in the week. The market has been quiet and temperatures have been unusually warm in his area recently, he said, but colder weather is due to make a return visit this week.

The buyer said he purchased "just a little baseload" for April because it's a mild-weather month for his company and it still has some storage inventory that needs to be used.

The number of drilling rigs actively searching for gas in the U.S. increased by 13 to 1,472 during the week ending March 30, according to the Baker Hughes Rotary Rig Count (http://intelligencepress.com/features/bakerhughes/). The tally was up 1% from a month earlier and 11% higher than at the comparable time last year, Baker Hughes said.

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