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More Losses, But Hints of Potential Slight Rally Seen

Although most of the market continued to soften Wednesday in trading for the last day of March, there were a couple of hints of latent strength in nearly all of the declines being smaller than the day before and quite a few points, primarily in the Northeast and Rockies but also in a few other scattered locations, were flat to slightly higher.

Nearly all declines were less than a dime as overall they ranged from 2-3 cents to a little more than C15 cents for NOVA Inventory Transfer. Among the points that avoided further drops, most were essentially flat, but a couple rose nearly a nickel.

Thursday's cash trading to launch the April aftermarket will receive some support from May futures beginning their prompt-month reign Wednesday with a rebound of 9.2 cents (see related story).

Further cash backing may result from President Obama's midday speech Wednesday according a major role for natural gas in helping to reduce American dependence on imported oil (see related story). Cash traders had finished business for the day by the time the speech was delivered, but some industry watchers think it may have given an extra push upward to futures Wednesday.

If the Energy Information Administration on Thursday reports the first overall storage build of the year for last week, as some anticipate, it could be a signal that early injection purchases will help keep the spot market from much further erosion.

It's no April Fools' joke that computer models are depicting a possible major Northeast storm late this week that could dump 6-12 inches of snow generally north and west of the region's I-95 corridor, said Tim Ballisty, editorial meteorologist for The Weather Channel. Storm watches have been posted for parts of New Jersey, New York, Connecticut, Massachusetts, Vermont, New Hampshire and Maine, Ballisty said.

"This storm would develop Thursday night off the Virginia coast and intensify Friday near the Jersey and southern New England coasts," he added. The storm's exact track was still uncertain Wednesday, he said, "but an interior track looks slightly more likely at this time." Ballisty also allowed for another possibility in which the storm could track too far off the coast, leading to a "nonevent."

There's certainly no abundance of heating load left compared to that generated by the severe winter weather of December through most of February, which reappeared to some extent last week in the Northeast, Midwest and parts of the West. However, there are still being furnaces getting turned on as freezing-or-lower bottom-end temperatures linger in the forecast for much of Canada and the northern U.S.

Also, modest warming trends in much of the eastern U.S. and parts of the Rockies for the most part were either stalling for the time being or slowing to a crawl. They were even reversing a bit in some southern locations such as Birmingham, AL, where Wednesday's high around 68 was expected to sink to just above 60 Thursday, the Weather Central firm said. It also looked for New Orleans, while staying mild in general, to see its high go from about 79 to the low 70s.

Although much of the West from Western Canada through the Rockies will stay chilly to cold for a while longer, some sections of the desert Southwest are starting to see some heat that, while not as severe as it normally gets in the summer, could be enough to induce some air conditioning use. Weather Central predicted peak temperatures Thursday of 93 for Phoenix and 85 for Las Vegas.

Southern parts of Florida are also seeing readings top out on either side of the mid 80s.

The Chicago citygate recorded not only the day's biggest drop of about a dime, but its trading volumes on IntercontinentalExchange (ICE) took a dive from 655,900 MMBtu Tuesday to 463,600 MMBtu Wednesday despite a Thursday forecast low and high of freezing and only the mid 40s, respectively. Meanwhile, the Houston area will be rebounding to around 80 going into the weekend after taking a slightly unusual (for the end of March) dip below 70. ICE said Houston Ship Channel quotes fell less than a nickel while ICE-traded volumes rose from 212,200 MMBtu to 300,300 MMBtu.

Late bidweek trading for April was both getting lighter and seeing more declines in most instances, ICE said. For instance, NGPL-Midcontinent's ICE average of about $4.12 on Tuesday's slid 6 cents Wednesday. El Paso-Permian barely qualified as one of the few exceptions, rising to about $4.06 after averaging $4.04 Tuesday, ICE said.

Precautionary measures taken by the U.S. and Germany in the wake of the earthquake/tsunami that damaged several of Japan's nuclear plants and caused radiation leakage are unlikely to have much impact on U.S. gas prices, according to Wednesday's weekly Natural Gas Kaleidoscope commentary by Barclays Capital analysts. However, they said, Germany's suspension -- "for now" -- of 8,300 MW of capacity at its oldest nuclear units and the Japanese losses will boost global need for oil, coal and liquefied natural gas, which could have an indirect effect on gas.

The U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission has followed through on a request from President Obama by launching a 90-day safety review of the nation's 104 reactors. But the review "should not necessitate the shutdown of U.S. reactors," and thus there would be no effect to power or fuel markets, the analysts said.

A clue to Tuesday's weakness in the spot market came in nominated volume declines for Wednesday at 16 of the 23 trading points covered by Bentek Energy's U.S. Natural Gas Hub Flows chart. Three of the seven upticks were in triple digits, Bentek said: MichCon, up 246,000 MMBtu (31%); PG&E citygate, up 211,000 MMBtu (9%); and Transco Zone 4, up 100,000 MMBtu (4%). The next biggest gain was 52,000 MMBtu (4%) at Malin. However, increases were heavily outnumbered by drops at most of Bentek's locations, led by Columbia Gas, which fell 234,000 MMBtu (5%); Northern Natural-demarc, down 228,000 MMBtu (32%); Waha, down 182,000 MMBtu (25%); and the Southern California border, down 102,000 MMBtu (4%).

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