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Weather, Futures Spur Gains at Most Points

It wasn't a complete upturn, but the hints in the previous day's market that a lessening of overall weakness might lead to a general rally Thursday came to fruition. Abetted by the May futures increase of 9.2 cents Wednesday and a rather slow easing of cold weather in much of the northern U.S. and Canada, a mixed market saw gains outnumbering losses.

Double-digit upticks at most citygates in the Northeast, where a winter-like storm was approaching, led numbers at most points that were flat to about 30 cents higher. New England-related trading locations had the biggest increases, while Texas Eastern M-3 was the only Northeast delivery location to rise by less than a dime.

Losses were pretty minor in ranging from 2-3 cents to about a nickel.

The Energy Information Administration satisfied the expectations of those anticipating the first overall net storage injection of the year in reporting a 12 Bcf build for the week ending March 25, although it handily exceeded consensus estimates around unchanged or slightly negative. Nymex traders reacted bearishly at first in pushing May futures more than a dime below Wednesday's settlement, but then did a turnabout, with the contract eventually closing out the day 3.4 cents higher (see related story).

One source suggested that futures traders may have had second thoughts based on President Obama's prior-day speech making natural gas the centerpiece of a strategy to reduce U.S. dependence on imported oil. However, another said it was probably just an underlying bullish mentality at Nymex following two weeks of screen strength, with Thursday's initial sharp decline presenting a good buying opportunity.

This week's weather is perceived by some as cold enough in some key market areas to result in one more net withdrawal being reported next Thursday. Citi Futures Perspective analyst Tim Evans is on record as expecting a rather large season-ending pull of 68 Bcf for the week ending April 1.

Enbridge-operated Triton Gathering was struck by a dredge barge Wednesday evening on its 12-inch diameter lateral downstream of West Cameron 62 offshore southwest Louisiana. Enbridge is working to isolate a subsea tie-in valve at West Cameron 44 and to assess damage for a repair plan, said spokeswoman Terri Larson Thursday; meanwhile, West Cameron 62 production has been shut in until the issue is resolved. Larson said a force majeure was declared for only the affected lateral; operations continue normally on the rest of the Triton gathering system and Enbridge's Stingray Pipeline, into which Triton feeds. No services were interrupted, Larson said.

In response to the harsher weather returning to the Northeast, affiliates Algonquin and Texas Eastern have re-implemented requirements that shippers keep market-area imbalances either neutral or positive. Friday's low temperatures will be back to slightly below freezing from New York City into England and westward to Buffalo.

Slowly, slightly higher temperatures are continuing to return to a still-chilly Midwest. And what had appeared to be a near-stall at midweek in the South's warming trends faded, with the Atlanta high expected to jump 10 degrees from Thursday's 56. The Rockies and Pacific Northwest remain cool but relatively mild, while it's getting downright toasty from central and Southern California through much of the desert Southwest. Phoenix is likely to come within an eyelash of hitting the century mark on the thermometer Friday.

Northwest Pipeline said low temperatures are now staying consistently above freezing at several major locations in its Pacific Northwest service area, with highs by Saturday expected to range from around 50 to the mid 60s.

PG&E citygate quotes rose 2-3 cents or so, IntercontinentalExchange (ICE) said, despite the utility declaring a high-inventory OFO (see Transportation Notes). However, ICE-traded citygate volumes continued to tumble after reaching a lofty 1,405,300 MMBtu Tuesday, falling further from 1,174,100 MMBtu Wednesday to 989,900 MMBtu Thursday.

ICE said its platform recorded very little April baseload activity Thursday on the final day of bidweek. One of the most active points still trading -- NOVA Inventory Transfer with 101,500 MMBtu in volume -- averaged about C$3.57, unchanged from the day before but nearly a dime less than the week's overall average of about C$3.66.

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