Once again Northeast citygates took the lead and the West brought up the rear in Thursday’s across-the-board rebound from softness on Wednesday. Cash relied primarily on prospects of continuing frigid weather for its strength Thursday, but should be able to continue higher Friday due to storage data, spiking futures and an out-of-season tropical storm’s potential for getting into the Gulf of Mexico.

Gains ranged from a little more than a nickel in the Rockies/Pacific Northwest to nearly 50 cents at Transco Zone 6 New York. Outside the Northeast and West, most upticks were between 15 and 40 cents.

Buyers who might have been hoping for some weather moderation before next week shouldn’t hold their breaths. Snowstorms either had arrived or were developing from the Mid-Atlantic and Northeast through the Midwest, Upper Plains and Pacific Northwest. Freezing rain was stretching into the Southeast as far as Georgia, and the rest of that region could expect cool to cold temperatures. Only Florida and parts of the desert Southwest continue to bask in mild (but not especially warm) temperatures.

The Energy Information Administration threw the market a curve by reporting a 59 Bcf storage withdrawal for last week, surpassing all prior expectations. January futures began a spectacular climb that finally settled at $6.337, a gain of 58.1 cents, and that was after retreating from a peak of $6.57. Not that it was needed, but the oil-related contracts at Nymex gave ancillary support with moderately strong gains.

“Nymex got a little jumpy today, didn’t it?” said an East Coast marketer in classic understatement. The EIA report didn’t do anything to blow him away since it didn’t keep the year-on-year surplus from rising, he went on, “but other people must have felt differently.” He speculated that maybe the Nymex traders were looking ahead to next week’s report. After all, Thursday’s bigger-than-expected volume covered a period including a two-day holiday; the upcoming report will be for an entire no-holiday week with a lot of cold weather all around, he said.

“Producers might like the Nymex spike, but traders in my position can’t get too thrilled about it,” said another utility buyer on the East Coast. It was a virtual certainty that the screen spike will keep cash prices on the rise for the weekend, she added.

Several sources reported upward trends in Thursday’s late quotes. Malin and Rockies were already going up, then went even higher following the storage report, a marketer said.

A western utility buyer who reported several El Paso-Permian (Waha pool) deals averaging in the low $5.00s had a later quote at $5.30 “done after the EIA report was released. Now gas everywhere is going to be expensive. I can roll with punches, but if this is a harbinger of things to come, it could be an expensive [heating] season.”

“Odette must have forgotten to look at the calendar,” quipped a marketer about the National Hurricane Center’s announcement that Tropical Storm Odette had formed in the eastern Caribbean Sea. The 2003 Atlantic hurricane season officially ended last Sunday, but Odette belatedly became the year’s 15th named storm. As of 4 p.m. EST its center was about 280 miles south-southeast of Kingston, Jamaica and moving northeast at nearly 10 mph. Tropical storm warnings were issued by Haiti and Jamaica, while other island nations in the region had tropical storm watches in effect. FYI, Odette became the first tropical storm to form in the Caribbean during December, NHC said.

A source who trades the Florida market said it has been a good time to be out of the office lately “because there’s no load there.” He said he hadn’t done any new deals in almost two weeks.

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