The cash market strength from Tuesday was slipping Wednesday, but a solid majority of points were still on the rise, although their gains were considerably smaller than the day before. Backsliding occurred in the Rockies as a winter storm was scheduled to have departed the area by Thursday.

Flat pricing, or close to it, dominated in the East where quotes ranged from less than a nickel lower to about 20 cents higher. Dominion was the only eastern point that fell; all others were flat to higher. The mixed-price divide was much sharper in the West. While the Rockies market recorded declines of about a nickel to half a dollar (Denver's high was due to rise from 54 degrees Wednesday into the low 60s Thursday), other western points ranged from about a nickel to about 15 cents higher.

Part of the non-Rockies firmness in the West resulted from rising cooling load in the desert Southwest, where The Weather Channel said temperatures would be climbing into the 90s and even a few lower 100s through Friday. Also, SoCalGas ended scheduled maintenance Wednesday at its Aliso Canyon storage facility, making another 750 MMcf/d of injection capacity available for Thursday in the regional market. The Southern California border rose a little more than a dime.

Meanwhile, weather appropriate for late April continued in most of the rest of the U.S. Even Calgary in Western Canada was basking (relatively) in the mid 50s at its temperature peak Wednesday. For the most part, power generation load for air conditioning has yet to develop to any substantive degree in most of the South; however, Florida Gas Transmission said warmer weather moving into its market area and low linepack created the potential for an Overage Alert Day in the near future (Orlando was forecast to peak just shy of 90 degrees Thursday). The Florida citygate had Wednesday's biggest gain.

Even with generally weak weather fundamentals overall, there's a good chance of continued price firmness at most points Thursday. Cash quotes will continue to have some prior-day futures support as Nymex's May contract made it three in a row for up days with a 9.1-cent increase Wednesday. Also, a Midcontinent producer reported prices rising as trading proceeded Wednesday, which usually serves as a fairly reliable pointer for next-day price movement. Panhandle Eastern started around $6.60-61 and steadily got higher, peaking around $6.78 before finishing at $6.74, he said.

The producer confessed to being mystified about why NGPL-Midcontinent recently has been trading more than a dime above Panhandle, saying the NGPL pool usually is 2-3 cents lower. He said he discussed it with a trading partner and they just couldn't figure out the NGPL premium. They were unaware of any transport constraints or other conditions that would explain it.

May baseload prices also were getting a bit stronger Wednesday, the producer went on. He sold a MichCon citygate package at index plus 2 cents and said MichCon basis rose from plus 18 cents Tuesday to plus 20 cents Wednesday. He wasn't sure of the reason, but suggested that MichCon buyers might be competing for supplies with the nearby Dawn Hub.

Index premiums were up too, he said, saying Panhandle Eastern traded at index plus 1.5-2 cents Tuesday, but Wednesday deals were being done at index plus 2-5 cents and finished at the plus 5 cents level.

Early storage injection buying may be behind the rising bidweek numbers, he said, because "the cheapest piece of gas is the front month [futures contract]." The producer said his company also sold a Transco Zone 6 non-New York City package at basis of plus 61.5 cents.

A Reuters survey of 21 industry players revealed an average expectation of a 17 Bcf net storage injection for the week ending April 20. Estimates ranged from a pull of 8 Bcf to a build of 32 Bcf, the news service said. Here's a sample of other storage report estimates (all injections): Ron Denhardt of Strategic Energy & Economic Research, 19 Bcf; Tim Evans of Citigroup, 30 Bcf; and Bentek Energy, 16 Bcf. Bentek said it expects a small net withdrawal to have continued in the Producing region (see futures story).

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