Multi-dollar plunges at several Northeast citygates stood out as most points in other regions were either flat or recorded changes up and down of about a nickel or less Thursday. Although leaving temperatures around freezing or not much higher in its wake, a winter storm was starting to move out of the Northeast, and other areas were seeing a variety of cold to cool conditions that failed to create impressive amounts of heating load. Cash quotes also continued to get no backing from the previous day's 5.5-cent fall by April futures.

Downturns, ranging from 2-3 cents to a little more than $4.75, were a bit more numerous than gains. All of the triple-digit declines occurred in the Northeast, although a couple of key citygates -- Texas Eastern M-3 and the non-New York pool of Transco's Zone 6 -- fell only a little more than 60 cents and about 80 cents, respectively.

Quite a few flat locations were joined by gains of up to about a nickel in resisting the general softness.

The 85 Bcf in storage withdrawals reported by the Energy Information Administration for the week ending Feb. 25 emulated the previous report by meeting prior expectations but being near the low end of consensus estimates in the mid to upper 80s. At first the Nymex reaction appeared bullish, with April futures rising following issuance of the report, but they ended the day down 4.0 cents (see related story). That will continue to deny prior-day screen support to the physical market Friday.

Despite the steep downhill run in Northeast numbers, Tennessee Thursday joined Spectra Energy pipes Texas Eastern and Algonquin in asking shippers to either stay in balance in the market area or to create positive imbalances there if feasible (see Transportation Notes).

The New York pool of Transco Zone 6 may have fallen about $3, but IntercontinentalExchange (ICE) said New York pool transactions on its online platform jumped from 190,200 MMBtu Wednesday to 244,400 MMBtu Thursday.

On the opposite coast, the PG&E citygate eked out a tiny gain of 2 cents or so Thursday, but ICE volumes skyrocketed by 228,500 MMBtu to 1,309,000 MMBtu. And a flat SoCal citygate saw a similarly large increase in ICE trading, rising from 488,200 MMBtu to 714,000 MMBtu.

A Texas-based marketer said there was enough work in the early days of the March aftermarket "to keep us busy," but gas trading at this point was going fairly smoothly. It's still cold enough in northern market areas that business activity hasn't receded much, he added.

The market looks soft again for the weekend, especially with the weekend drop of industrial load being added as a bearish factor, the marketer said. He didn't see anything bullish for gas prices on the horizon, saying it looks like the cash market will be generally flat to a little softer through the spring and maybe into summer, depending on whether the very cold winter is close to being matched by a very hot summer.

An Upper Midwest marketer said her company "bought pretty strongly" on March baseload, so it's not especially active in the aftermarket. It is only buying daily gas occasionally for two "prepaid" customers, but it is meeting the needs of other clients with the baseload supplies.

There are still some touches of winter around with a bit of icing occurring on some nights, but local daytime temperatures are pretty comfortable, the marketer said. However, she reported hearing forecasts of a below-normal March in the Upper Midwest.

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