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Market Sees Double-Digit Gains Across the Board

It wasn't much, but the market could claim a little more of both heating and cooling load in posting solid double-digit increases at all points Thursday. However, cash quotes continued to depend more on prior-day screen support and a general sense that global economic woes may be starting to lessen in extending the week's rally into its fourth day.

Gains were remarkably consistent across all geographic market areas in ranging from a little more than 15 cents to about 40 cents. A large majority were in the 20s. The 27.2-cent futures spike Wednesday was believed to be chiefly responsible for the growing cash strength.

The Energy Information Administration was at the high end of consensus expectations in the low to mid 90s Bcf when it reported a 95 Bcf storage injection for the week ending May 1. Although the volume exceeded both the year-ago addition and the five-year average build, Nymex traders responded bullishly by pushing June gas futures another 19.4 cents higher amid continued firmness throughout the energy futures complex (see related story).

Forecasts of highs in the low to mid 80s were spreading into the eastern end of the South, where they had been confined to the upper 70s earlier in the week. That likely meant that more gas-fired peaking generation units will be getting dispatched Friday than before.

And on the other side of the temperature spectrum, some increases in heating load were expected from predictions of some parts of the Midwest bottoming out in the low to mid 40s Friday, while lows in the freezing area are starting to surface again in the northern Rockies.

For the most part, however, weather fundamentals are still on the weak side for the gas market as moderate shoulder-month weather continues to dominate the general outlook.

The Florida citygate saw Thursday's biggest uptick as Florida Gas Transmission kept an Overage Alert Day in effect for its sixth straight day.

As recently as Thursday PG&E expected linepack on its California Gas Transmission system to be just above the minimum target level. However, it also projected a rapid rise that would carry linepack to slightly above the desired maximum by Sunday.

A Texas-based marketer said he had the feeling that both cash and futures prices for natural gas were riding the coattails of a resurgent oil market. Recent economic developments have "not been great news," but at least the outlook is not as bad as it used to be, he said. Some around his office are feeling like June futures are more likely to go back to $3.60 than to $4.60, but he was leaning toward a gradual rise.

The main issue looming for the future is that "we're going to be full on storage earlier than usual this year," which very well could squelch any prospects for sustaining the current bull market much longer, the marketer said. Also, hurricane season is expected to be less active than usual, so major supply disruptions in that area are unlikely, he said.

The marketer looks for the cash market to make it five for five Friday on higher cash prices this week, citing the continued futures strength Thursday and a balance-of-month Henry Hub deal he saw done on ICE at $4.08, which was nearly 15 cents above Thursday's average. But the bid-offer spread of $3.60 and $4.20 that he saw for weekend Houston Ship Channel supplies indicate that Friday activity is likely to be volatile, he said.

A Midwestern utility buyer said he couldn't perceive any reason why prices kept going up every day this week in the face of moderate weather in most areas. As anecdotal evidence of light temperature-based demand, he said neither the heater nor the air conditioner has been running for the past week or so. "You'd think we were heading into winter" from the way the cash market is behaving, he added. His utility certainly hasn't experienced any upticks in load in its service area recently, he said.

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