A few enigmatic gains and a mostly flat Chicago citygate notwithstanding, prices kept falling at all other points Wednesday in response to pressure from mild weather fundamentals and the screen’s second dollar-plus plunge in three trading days Tuesday.

Declines ranged from a nickel to about 85 cents. Unlike the day before, when western points tended to see the smallest drops, they were recording most of the largest ones Wednesday. The rare upticks ran as high as about a quarter.

Thursday’s trading is expected to be for the two-day period through the end of the month, followed by Friday deals for flows on the first three days of January.

Icy precipitation is in the Thursday forecast for the northern edges of the Northeast and Midwest, along with mountainous sections of the West. However, temperatures above seasonal norms will continue to dominate the overall weather picture.

January futures arrested a steep slide that dated back to last Thursday by managing a 40.9-cent rebound on their expiration day. The rise was largely thought to be in sympathy with the spiking crude oil contract for February, which soared $1.66/bbl on reports that OPEC plans to vote for a production cut next month. However, at least one source doubted that the natural gas screen’s rally would be sufficient to boost cash Thursday in the face of persistently weak fundamentals.

A high-inventory OFO by PG&E (see Transportation Notes) helped to suppress western prices, as did continuing issues with high linepack on several of the region’s interstate pipelines.

A Gulf Coast producer found it hard to understand how a few isolated points managed to rise when the overall market was succumbing to weak influences. Both daily and bidweek numbers followed similar patterns, he said, in heading downward early, coming back up strongly along with the screen, but starting to show signs of weakness again late Wednesday afternoon. He expected to wrap up virtually all of his January business Wednesday.

A western marketer encountered wide ranges in her bidweek deals Wednesday, reporting these numbers: Northern Natural -demarc, $8.90-9.31; Southern California border, $8.70-9.20; Transwestern Permian, $8.35-60; Waha, $8.33-83; and Williams, $8.52-92. The big spreads resulted from numbers seesawing most of the day but going up sharply along with the screen near the end, she said. Other than PG&E’s OFO, she considered it a pretty routine daily market.

A marketer in the Upper Midwest said temps were well above freezing in her area, making it relatively warm for the end of December. She was able to buy at both Michigan citygates for Thursday flow in the $9.60s. In January deals, her company bought MichCon at basis of minus 21.9 cents but its Consumers purchase was at basis of minus 0.5 cent. Circumstances related to hedging and the way it locked up the basis contracts accounted for the wide difference, she said.

First Enercast Financial predicted a storage withdrawal of 162 Bcf to be reported for the week ending Dec. 23. “Thursday’s release by the EIA is expected to be the last significant draw of this recent cold snap as warmer temperatures have returned,” First Enercast said. “Last week temperatures across the U.S. averaged nearly 5% colder than average, causing our third consecutive draw over 150 Bcf this season. Average draws for this time of year are around 130 Bcf.”

The Reuters news service said its survey of 17 industry players yielded a range of withdrawal estimates from 125 Bcf to 185 Bcf, from which it calculated an average response of 158 Bcf. That matched up pretty well with Citigroup’s Kyle Cooper, who said his final estimation calls for a pull of 154-164 Bcf. Cooper added that this week’s storage withdrawal, to be reported next week, “and even the withdrawal in the first week in January are unlikely to exceed 100 Bcf. Unless the weather turns much colder in the middle of January, which is certainly possible, prices are headed much lower. However, our favorite saying remains true. Mother Nature will be neither bullish nor bearish forever.”

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