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Firm Gulf Prices Buck Overall Weakness; Futures Slide

Going into the weekend and Monday, buyers on Friday were still reluctant to aggressively seek incremental volumes in spite of weather forecasts calling for below-normal temperatures at some points.

A nominal number of market points made it to the positive side of the trading ledger, but major eastern locations posted losses up to double digits. Gulf locations firmed for the most part. At the close of futures trading May had eased 3.1 cents to $44.39 and June was down 3.2 cents to $4.467. May crude oil added 85 cents to $101.14/bbl.

New England points proved to be the weakest as a warming trend was forecast along the Eastern Seaboard. Alex Sosnowski, AccuWeather.com meteorologist, said, "A warmer weekend is in store for New York City ahead of another batch of rain for early next week. The typical high for the city this time of the year is 58 F, [and] high temperatures both days will be within a few degrees of 60 F."

He said the "nicer of the two weekend days will be Sunday with sunshine and less wind. In the wake of locally drenching rain and spotty thunderstorms from Friday night, stiff winds from the west and northwest will bring dry air into the region on Saturday. A new storm forecast to brew near the Gulf Coast this weekend will swing northeastward early next week with a dose of drenching rain."

Boston's Friday high of 44 degrees was expected to warm to 56 on Saturday followed by a rise to 59 on Monday. The seasonal high in Boston this time of year is 52. New York City's high on Friday of 45 was seen making it to 62 on Saturday and easing to 58 on Monday. The normal high in New York for early April is 56. Washington, DC's high Friday of 62 was expected to ease slightly to 60 on Saturday and fall to 58 on Monday. The seasonal high in Washington, DC, is 62.

Weekend and Monday gas at the Algonquin Citygates shed 41 cents to $4.84, and deliveries to Iroquois Waddington were down 26 cents to $4.80. Gas tendered on Tennessee Zone 6 200 L fell 29 cents to $4.94.

The lofty spot prices in New England seen this winter may eventually be a thing of the past. An industry veteran said that Tennessee was building new pipe to connect its 200 Leg and 300 Leg as well as a whole new pipe that would take gas to Dracut, MA, from the Marcellus.

The veteran also noted the basis for the summer strip at the Algonquin Citygates was 61 cents -- "very high for this time of year."

Quotes in the Mid-Atlantic and Appalachia softened as well. Gas on Columbia TCO for the weekend and Monday eased 2 cents to $4.36, and deliveries to Dominion South shed 6 cents to $4.14. Gas on Tennessee Zone 4 Marcellus fell 15 cents to $3.64, and packages at Transco Leidy were quoted a nickel lower at $3.86.

Prices in the Mid-Atlantic also weakened. Tetco M-3 deliveries were seen at $4.31, down 5 cents, and packages on their way to New York City on Transco Zone 6 shed 11 cents to $4.31.

Gulf points bucked the overall market weakness and rose a few cents. Deliveries on ANR SE were flat at $4.40, and gas on Columbia Mainline was seen at $4.41, up 2 cents. Henry Hub parcels came in at $4.48, unchanged, but Tetco E LA rose by 3 cents to $4.39. Gas on Tennessee 500 L gained 3 cents to $4.44.

Futures traders described the day's activity as a "snoozer," with the range on the May contract held to less than 8 cents. "$4.40 is now near-term support and $4.50 resistance. Beyond that you are looking at $4.25 below and $4.75 above. We are still looking at the same numbers," said a New York floor trader.

Thursday's near 11-cent advance in the face of expected storage figures has analysts looking for higher prices. "[Thursday's] assertive bullish response to a seemingly neutral EIA storage figure reinforces our expectations of a run at the $4.61 area, achievement of which could develop sooner rather than later," said Jim Ritterbusch of Ritterbusch and Associates in closing comments Thursday to clients.

"Although [the] reported 74 Bcf withdrawal was 6 Bcf less than we had anticipated, and some 21 Bcf smaller than a year ago, we believe that the market was forced to take notice of another dramatic expansion in the deficit against averages that had associated with a plunge in supply to 822 Bcf. While this draw could prove to be the last of the season, the process of upsizing storage levels sufficiently to meet next winter's needs will be demanding a significantly higher price, in our view.

"Although production is exhibiting a strong rebound with a record pace likely developing this week, we feel that additional gains will be required. All in all, a bullish stance is still advised in this market. Despite the fact that Monday's selloff extended further than we had anticipated, we still suggest working this market strictly from the long side as we see additional gains to $4.61 as high probability with an ultimate rally to around $4.80 when extending a view out to beyond next week."

Addison Armstrong of Tradition Energy sees "traders eye[ing] moderating temperatures and prospects for decreasing heating demands. Gas prices have now rebounded more than 25 cents, or 6%, over the past couple trading days after hitting a 2.5-month low earlier during the week. The market is confronting storage levels that have dropped to an 11-year low and a heavier than normal nuclear power plant maintenance and refueling season.

"On the other hand, expectations of record production, plus limited temperature-linked demand during shoulder season could limit price rallies until the onset of summer air-conditioning load."

Injections have begun in earnest on the West Coast. Genscape reported that "California storage operators have been injecting gas into the ground in the past week. Storage injection is currently at 0.6 Bcf/d. With ample available storage capacity and California's price premium over Rockies and Canada, storage injection rate should be strong this summer. However, with the huge draw this winter, California inventory is currently 150 Bcf lower than the level of the previous two years."

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