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Most Points Down as Milder Weather Spreads

With the transition to more seasonal springtime conditions continuing to displace the winter-like weather that lingered through much of March in several areas, prices fell at a large majority of points Thursday. The previous day's further drop of 8.5 cents by May futures, extending a string of screen weakness into its fourth day, put more downward pressure on cash numbers.

There were a few signs of firmness still left in the form of quite a few instances of scattered flat quotes, and El Paso's San Juan-Blanco pool and the Carthage Hube in East Texas even eked out small gains. And except in the Northeast and at the PG&E citygate, losses ranging from 2-3 cents to nearly 40 cents were in single digits.

The Energy Information Administration came in well short of consensus expectations in the low 50s Bcf when it announced a 45 Bcf withdrawal from storage in the week ending April 1. The predictable bearish reaction by Nymex traders pushed prompt-month futures another 8.9 cents lower (see related story). It was expected to be the final storage pull of the season as injections get going in earnest

Although the South is on the verge of contributing a substantive amount of extra power generation demand through increasing use of air conditioners, except for hot spots in Florida highs remain merely warm in the 70s for the most part east of the Mississippi River. Summery conditions are appearing a bit earlier west of the Mississippian, however, as Louisiana, Arkansas, Oklahoma and Texas -- and even Memphis, TN, on the river's eastern bank -- are forecast to rise into the mid to upper 80s Friday.

A trend of rising temperatures in the Midwest appeared likely to be either stalling temporarily or regressing slightly Friday. But a Northern Natural Gas bulletin board posting helped indicate the extent of the warmup that can be expected in the Upper Midwest. The pipeline's normal system-weighted temperature at this time of year is 42 degrees, it said, but averages were projected to rise from 50 Thursday to 54 Friday and a relatively moderate 61 Saturday.

Mercury levels will also be largely static or slightly lower in the Northeast. The West is a study in contrasting trends: the Rockies, Pacific Northwest, Western Canada and much of Northern California are expected to be getting warmer, while temperatures will be dropping from the desert Southwest into Southern California. Even Phoenix, normally one of the hottest urban areas in the nation, will struggle to reach the unusually cool area of 70 Friday.

Malin and the PG&E citygate fell about a nickel and a dime, respectively, as PG&E will end a low-inventory OFO Friday.

Westcoast said its linepack was low Thursday but trending toward normal levels. Westcoast Station 2 quotes dropped about C3 cents.

Although Henry Hub quotes fell about a nickel, IntercontinentalExchange (ICE) found hub volumes on its platform jumping by just over 200,000 MMBtu from 917,000 MMBtu Wednesday to 1,117,800 MMBtu Thursday.

ICE also provided a clue that Oklahoma highs in the mid to upper 80s due Friday may already be giving a boost to intrastate power generation demand. Oneok was one of Thursday's flat exceptions to overall softening, and its trading activity on ICE slightly more than doubled from 39,300 MMBtu to 79,400 MMBtu.

Hints of spring are showing up in the area, said a utility buyer in the Lower Midwest, and one is that gas throughput has dropped off drastically since last week. There's still a little heating load left, though, she said, because some residents are turning on their furnaces at night to combat lows from the mid 40s to around 50.

Otherwise, the utility is entering a quiet period that likely will last until the first serious heat of summer arrives, the buyer added.

And a marketer in the Upper Midwest said it was still rather chilly in her area, but not for long because local temperatures were forecast to start peaking in the high 70s around Sunday. Despite the warming conditions, she said, her company was buying a little more spot gas for its clients this week than before because the lower prices "are more attractive."

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