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Most Points Near Flat; Modest Gains Dominant

Most of the market was less than a dime up or down from flat Tuesday as prices recovered to some extent from the previous Friday's major losses across the board, despite overall heating and cooling load continuing to be light in most areas. Patches of chill here and there, along with predicted Wednesday highs in the mid to high 80s in parts of the South and approaching 100 in the desert Southwest, did contribute a modicum of weather-based demand.

A modest majority of points were flat to about 15 cents higher, with Northeast citygates seeing most of the larger gains even with a warming trend predicted for the region. Losses ranging from 2-3 cents to about 15 cents tended to be biggest in the Rockies.

After giving Tuesday's cash market moderately negative guidance with a loss of 8.8 cents Friday, June futures spent most of their pre-expiration day in the red Tuesday before eking out a late gain of 2.2 cents (see related story).

Because of the timing of the transition between months, spot gas deals done Thursday will be done for flows through Sunday, while Friday trading will cover Monday-only deliveries.

Perhaps because the notice of SoCalGas issuing a new high-linepack OFO for Wednesday after having ended an earlier one Tuesday did not go out until Tuesday afternoon, the Southern California border dropped only a couple of pennies while the SoCal citygate was flat. Tennessee, PG&E and MRT have ended other capacity constraints related to mild weather (see Transportation Notes). Although PG&E lifted its OFO, losses at Malin and the PG&E citygate were nearly a dime.

It was pretty muggy in North Texas through Tuesday, a Gulf Coast trader said, but conditions should get a little cooler later in the week. Considering the major weakness of the holiday weekend market and the subsequent rebound of industrial load for Wednesday, she said she was not surprised that most daily prices were close to flat Tuesday despite weather-based demand remaining on the light side in most areas.

Thursday morning's storage report will be key to spot market dynamics as May comes to an end and the official 2009 Atlantic hurricane season begins at the start of June, the trader said. She also expects balancing deals to play a significant role in the end-of-month market.

The trader said she had finished all June baseload business, all based on index, on Friday. Her company also had "a lot" of summer deals in effect, she said, but they were mostly for relatively small volumes.

The weakness of the economy since about mid-2008 is certainly showing up in his company's bottom line, a Midwest utility buyer said. His purchasing duties have been on the slow side in recent months.

The buyer said he finished June business early last week, buying most of the utility's baseload supply at Northern Natural's Ventura point from index flat to index plus 2-3 cents. At a glance Tuesday, he judged bidweek pricing to be slightly stronger this week.

Only normal conditions along most of the California coast are left out of the National Weather Service's six- to 10-day forecast for above-normal temperatures during the June 1-5 workweek everywhere west of a line running mostly southward from eastern Montana through eastern New Mexico and the western end of Texas. The agency expects below-normal readings in nearly all of the Northeast (excluding southern New Jersey) extending westward through all of the Midwest except its southern extremes into the eastern Dakotas.

Another 17 drilling rigs dropped out of the U.S. search for natural gas during the week ending May 22, dropping the active number to 711, according to the Baker Hughes Rotary Rig Count (http://intelligencepress.com/features/bakerhughes/). As usual, most of the attrition occurred onshore, where the tally fell by 14, Baker Hughes said; three rigs were deactivated in the Gulf of Mexico. Its latest count is down 4% from a month earlier and 52% less than the year-ago level.

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