Given a little boost from the modestly firmer expiration of October futures and an almost imperceptible return of higher temperatures in the South, the September daily market ended Wednesday with a near-repeat of Tuesday's trading -- prices nearly all within a narrow range around unchanged.

But whereas flat to mostly a little higher numbers had commanded a bare majority on the previous day, the overall bias was looking a little more to the downside Wednesday.

Only the Florida citygate drop of nearly 13 cents exceeded single digits amid declines ranging from 2-3 cents to nearly a dime elsewhere. Nearly half of the market was flat to a little more than a nickel higher.

Thursday's launch of the October aftermarket will retain a tad of prior-day screen support after November futures assumed their new prompt-month status with an uptick of 1.1 cents (see related story).

It may have taken longer than many observers expected, but after holding steady through Tuesday night with maximum sustained winds of 35 mph, Tropical Depression 16 finally got the extra 4 mph in wind speed it needed to be rated as Tropical Storm Nicole by the National Hurricane Center (NHC) around mid-morning Wednesday. Gas market impact was still negligible, though, as Nicole cleared Cuba's north coast and remained on a course that would cause its outer winds to brush the extreme southeastern coast of Florida before continuing northward not far off the Eastern Seaboard. Late Wednesday afternoon NHC said that although Nicole still barely qualified as a tropical storm with 40 mph winds, it was starting to dissipate over the Straits of Florida, and the agency was no longer projecting a course for tropical storm-strength winds as it had been doing earlier that day.

NHC said development conditions were weakening for a tropical wave about 900 miles east of the Windward Islands and it still had only a 10% chance of becoming a tropical cyclone over the next 48 hours. On Wednesday afternoon the agency had added another tropical wave to its Atlantic monitoring map to the east of the first one and closer to the Cape Verde Islands. The second wave's odds of development also were 10%, NHC said.

Louisiana and Texas were forecast to creep a few degrees higher at several locations, but that was about the only appreciable rebound of cooling load -- and it wasn't much. The Phoenix area would continue hitting the mid 100s, but most of Southern California was in cooldown mode after a torrid heat wave earlier in the week that caused a record-setting 113-degree peak in downtown Los Angeles. Otherwise the overall forecast sounded greatly like that preceded it in recent weeks: moderate to cool or chilly, with even most of the South staying limited to highs in the low 80s.

Most of Wednesday's small losses were concentrated in western markets, which may have been a symptom of the excess supply issues that prompted PG&E to declare a high-inventory OFO (see Transportation Notes). Prices at Malin and the PG&E citygate fell 3-5 cents or so, according to IntercontinentalExchange (ICE), while volumes traded on its platform at the two points fell from Tuesday to Wednesday -- 465,200 MMBtu to 307,400 MMBtu and 854,100 MMBtu to 757,600 MMBtu, respectively.

A Midwest-based industrial end-user said it was comfortably cool in his area and he had been unable to detect any local heating load yet. In bidweek purchases, he did "nearly everything" at index flat for plants scattered around much of the U.S. One facility is in the process of restarting from a maintenance outage, he said, so rather than buy baseload gas for it he will dip into the daily market as necessary until the plant is fully ramped back up.

It was easy to find October supplies, the end-user continued, noting that nobody seemed to want to haggle much. He felt like most suppliers wanted to make their sales early over concerns that they might have trouble unloading the gas later or take much lower prices.

At the few points where bidweek deals were continuing on ICE in small amounts Wednesday, the trading service indicated that late prices for October were down about a nickel or less from a day earlier. For example, ICE found 3,500 MMBtu in Panhandle Eastern business at $3.50, slightly less than a nickel lower than on Tuesday.

Befitting generally near-flat prices over the last couple of days, Bentek Energy's U.S. Natural Gas Hub Flows chart showed relatively little change in nominated volumes at 23 trading points from Tuesday to Wednesday. A large majority of the points had flat to only 2-3% shifts either up or down. The largest percentage gains occurred at NGPL-TexOk, up 56,000 MMBtu to 628,000 MMBtu (10%), and Sumas, up 63,000 MMBtu to 801,000 MMBtu (9%), Bentek said. It found the Southern California border taking the biggest loss of 305,000 MMBtu to 3,054,000 MMBtu (9%).

Addison Armstrong of Tradition Energy sees the potential for some early-season heating load in the Midwest by the second week of October. "Weather forecasts continue to indicate mostly normal to below-normal temperatures in the next couple of weeks," he said Wednesday. The Midwest's six- to 10-day forecasts indicate some well-below-normal readings that might be enough to inspire some furnace-running in the overnight hours, Armstrong added.

Credit Suisse analyst Teri Viswanath said she expects a 69 Bcf storage build to be reported Thursday for the week ending Sept. 24, adding that the drop in week-on-week injections "was likely caused by a rise in cooling demand and an increase in coal plant outages."

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