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Screen, Returning Cold Cause Most Points to Rise

Cash prices staged a rally at a majority of points Thursday, bolstered both by the previous day's increase of 6.9 cents by May futures and prospects of increasing heating load in the Midwest. There was also the possibility of limited cooling load in the South as such locations as New Orleans and Houston were expected to peak around 80 degrees Friday while Orlando, FL, could expect a high in the mid 80s.

The extra loss of industrial load associated with a long holiday weekend appeared to have little negative impact on the market.

Thursday's rebound was fairly limited, though, as few gains got above single digits. Most points were flat to about 60 cents higher. The spike of about 60 cents was somewhat deceptive, however, as it was Dracut making up its prior-day plunge of 58 cents; otherwise, gains were capped at nearly 20 cents. Losses ranged from a couple of cents to nearly 20 cents.

As Larry the Cable Guy might have said, it was a "get 'er done and get out" day, with most traders departing their offices earlier than usual for the holiday weekend.

A storage injection season that is expected to challenge working gas capacity before it ends is apparently well under way already. The Energy Information Administration said 20 Bcf was added in the week ending April 3, handily exceeding consensus expectations in the low to mid teens Bcf. That follows reports of an early 3 Bcf build in the week ending March 20 and unchanged storage levels a week later. Nymex traders had only a mildly bearish reaction, however, taking May gas futures down 2 cents to $3.610. Strength in the petroleum complex likely limited the gas softness (see related story).

Price declines tended to be concentrated in the West and to a lesser extent in the Midcontinent, even though colder temperatures were in the forecast for the Midcontinent and its primary market area of the Midwest. Lows around freezing or less were still predicted for Friday in parts of the Rockies, but its biggest population center of Denver wouldn't get below 37, according to the Weather Central forecasting firm.

Outside the colder weekend tendencies in the Midwest, most areas should see seasonal to above-normal temperatures, although the possibility of snowfall remained for mountainous areas of the West, The Weather Channel said.

El Paso was warning of a potential Strained Operating Condition due to high linepack resulting from takes below scheduled quantities and receipt points in the supply basins being in excess of scheduled deliveries. On the other hand, although it did not issue an OFO, PG&E projected system linepack would be not far above its minimum target levels during the weekend.

A Midwest utility buyer said it was still snowing in his area the previous weekend, but nothing was left on the ground last Thursday. Forecasts are mostly moderate for the near and intermediate terms, he said.

Referring to the report of a 20 Bcf storage build when inventories are already strong at the start of injection season, the buyer commented, "We'll find out how much" actual working gas capacities are capable of reaching.

In a rare departure from its usual Friday afternoon report, Baker Hughes said the decline of drilling rigs seeking natural gas in the U.S. was accelerating again after declining by only two during the previous week. The oilfield services firm said 18 rigs had quit the search during the week ending April 9 (Thursday), dragging the total down to 790 (http://intelligencepress.com/features/bakerhughes/). Four were added in the Gulf of Mexico, Baker Hughes said, but that was more than offset by the onshore departure of 22 rigs. Its latest tally is down 14% from a month ago and is 46% less than the year ago tally.

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