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Heating Load Still Light, But Price Surge Continues

Prices continued to rise at virtually all points Monday despite a relative dearth of significant heating load. Yes, there were still some forecasts of low temperatures around freezing or less for Tuesday in the Northeast, Upper Plains, Rockies and Alberta, but those are largely taken for granted and lightly regarded in late March.

The cash market did look to Friday's 5.3-cent gain by April futures and the return of industrial load from weekend hiatus for support, plus whatever remaining heating demand it could scrabble together. There was also positive economic news Monday, although one trader said that came too late to have much impact on the cash gas market.

Only a drop of about a nickel on Texas Eastern's 24-inch diameter M-1 line (Kosciusko, MS) failed to qualify for overall gains ranging from a little less than a dime to nearly 45 cents. The Algonquin citygate recorded the top increase as Boston could expect a low around freezing Tuesday while Burlington, VT, and Concord, NH, were due to bottom out in the low 20s, according to Madison, WI-based Weather Central. Overall the Northeast saw the biggest increases, but nearly all were in double digits.

Transportation constraints were minor after CIG ended a Strained Operating Condition (see Transportation Notes). PG&E said it expected California Gas Transmission system linepack to edge slightly blow minimum target levels Wednesday, but did not issue an OFO. On the other hand, El Paso said it was dealing with high linepack Monday.

However, noting a dollar-plus trading range at the Chicago citygate, one source suggested that continuing restrictions on delivering into the Nicor system was stretching the delivery cost spread.

Tuesday's cash market will continue to get prior-day screen support after the April gas futures contract added another 6.7 cents Monday (see related story).

The Midwest, which has provided the bulk of the spot market's heating load in recent weeks, will be largely missing in action in that regard at least temporarily. Even Minneapolis, while expecting a cooling trend, is due to remain above freezing Tuesday, while Chicago will be warming to a high near the mid 60s.

The South, which had been experiencing spring-like warmth before the season became official Friday, is back at it with forecasts of highs in the 70s Tuesday. At least one Houston source confirmed air conditioning use over the weekend, although he said midweek rains may cut into that demand. Western forecasts called for sub-freezing lows in Alberta, merely chilly conditions in the Pacific Northwest, Rockies lows in the freezing vicinity and cool to mild elsewhere in the region.

A Midwestern marketer said he was "a little" surprised at Monday's cash market strength, but "not that much." Yes, there were still some freezing lows in the forecast for parts of the northern market areas, he acknowledged, but that's about par for the course in late March.

Positive economic news may have helped gas futures Monday, he said, but cash trading got finished too early for much bullish effect there. Gains on the financial front "may" boost cash quotes Tuesday, the marketer said, but added that was not a certainty.

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