Prices continued to fall modestly at a majority of points Friday, but despite the extra decline of industrial load over a holiday weekend, a number of locations mostly in the Northeast were flat to a little more than 90 cents higher because of a revival of colder temperatures during the weekend and through much of the week. Subfreezing lows predicted to begin Saturday in the Northeast caused regional citygates to record the largest upticks.
Losses ranged from 2-3 cents to nearly a dime; those in the range of 4-6 cents tended to be most frequent.
Besides the holiday weekend effect on demand, conditions remaining moderate in some areas (particularly the Southeast) and a 5.3-cent drop by March futures a day earlier also were bearish influences for Friday's cash trading. Screen guidance will be essentially neutral for the physical market Tuesday after the prompt-month contract stayed close to flat and ended Friday up eight-tenths of a penny (see related story).
Development of the North American shales continued to grow during the week. Led by a 3% gain in the number of rigs in the Eagle Ford and a 5% gain in the number of rigs in the Uinta Basin, unconventional rigs counts for the major shale gas producing basins were up week-on-week, according to NGI's Shale Daily Unconventional Rig Count (http://shaledaily.com).
The fact that Friday's deals for the holiday weekend involved flows through Tuesday was a factor in some of the limited price firmness because most areas will have already gotten chilly to cold again by then or will be in the process of doing so. For example, although Houston Ship Channel quotes fell nearly a dime, Houston had mid 70s highs forecast for Friday through Monday but on Tuesday the thermometer was expected to peak about 10 degrees lower. However, although northern market areas can expect to stay cold beyond then, a quick return to the 70s in Houston is expected to begin Wednesday, an area source said.
Don't be fooled by the springlike warmth of late in northern areas, warn AccuWeather.com meteorologists. The forecasting service said Friday an area from the northern Plains through the Midwest to the Northeast will be "a weather battle zone" into March, and this week will be no exception. A couple of storms will bring snow or a wintry mix to much of those areas early in the week, said Senior Expert Meteorologist Alex Sosnowski.
After moving eastward from the Plains into the Midwest, the first storm could leave a couple of inches of snow in Chicago, Detroit and other Midwest areas before proceeding to the Northeast, he said. It could also be bringing frozen precipitation to the northern Mid-Atlantic and southern New England by Monday. Later Monday the second storm will carry the risk of snow farther south as it traverses the middle Mississippi and Ohio valleys because it will hit those areas as fresh cold air is arriving, Sosnowski said.
AccuWeather.com Winter and Long Range Expert Meteorologist Joe Bastardi summarized, "The back of winter has been broken in the South. But while spring may be just around the corner for the Northeast, northern Plains and New England, it could be a long walk down the street to get to the corner."
In the Feb. 25-March 3 period straddling the transition between months, the National Weather Service predicts that above-normal temperatures will remain in only the Southeast. It looks for below-normal readings everywhere west and north of a line running northeastward from central Texas through the Midcontinent before turning horizontal through the central Midwest to Connecticut on the East Coast.
PG&E did not issue an OFO Friday, but there was a possibility of one being declared during the weekend as the dual utility projected that linepack on its California Gas Transmission system would be exceeding maximum target levels Monday.
The Algonquin citygate had one of the day's biggest price jumps, but its trading volumes on the IntercontinentalExchange (ICE) platform shrank significantly from 145,200 MMBtu Thursday to 100,400 MMBtu Friday. Henry Hub took a price hit of about a nickel, but its ICE volume hit (falling from 702,300 MMBtu to 562,800 MMBtu) was more eye-catching.
An East Coast utility buyer said she hadn't done any March business yet, but thinks indexes will be only a little lower than February's. February prices probably will turn out to be near the lows for 2011, she added.
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