The cash market was still finding enough power generation load — prompted by a combination of warm temperatures and a spate of nuclear plant outages, both intentional and unscheduled — to eke out further generally small price gains at a majority of points Wednesday. But El Paso-San Juan quotes actually fell by 2-3 cents and several other points, nearly all of them in the West, were flat to barely higher. Gains ran as big as about 20 cents.

There was some doubt on whether prices could sustain this week’s rally for one more day. Cooling load was already showing signs of fading in one key market area, the Midwest, according to one source, and the same thing was due to occur within the next day or two in another key market area, the Northeast, a producer said. Only the Southeast and desert Southwest are expected to keep recording highs in the 80s that presumably would keep air conditioning systems humming busily in those regions.

Another reason to expect moderate softening Thursday, according to a marketer, is anticipation of the Energy Information Administration reporting another robust storage injection for so early in the traditional injection season. An analyst that his company uses who has managed to nail the weekly storage change in advance, whether going higher or lower, on the head several times earlier this year is predicting that a 53 Bcf injection will be announced Thursday morning, the marketer said.

He didn’t see any significant price support for physical gas from the screen, which managed a meager 1.2-cent gain for the day Wednesday and was falling in the afternoon after failing to break through resistance levels. Nymex’s petroleum complex also realized fairly small advances, with crude oil up only 33 cents to $52.44/bbl even after the Department of Energy announced the first weekly drop in crude inventories in nine weeks Wednesday morning.

“This market doesn’t seem to know whether it wants to go up or down,” said a Gulf Coast producer, explaining that May gas futures have traded in a 20-cent band for the last week and a half, “and cash has been mirroring that kind of behavior. He reported still seeing fairly substantial power generation load in the Northeast for Thursday, but said average market-area temperatures are supposed to drop 20 degrees or so by Friday, so he doesn’t expect generators to be buying as much gas Thursday.

The producer said Henry Hub was essentially flat to May futures during the morning trading session, while over the last month the Hub “has been as much as 15 cents back to a couple of pennies over the screen.” Wednesday afternoon’s futures retreat left the Hub’s cash average at nearly a nickel premium.

“We’re getting a couple of calls already” from buyers wanting to get their May baseload supplies set up instead of waiting until bidweek next week, the producer said.

A Houston-based marketer said it looked like air conditioning load was already coming down quite a bit in the Midwest. He expects prices will go a little lower Thursday. He noted that the Chicago citygate-Henry Hub spread had tightened from as much as 12-15 cents last week to about 3 cents Wednesday (the Hub was at a small premium above the citygate).

“I’m starting to see some wavering on continued storage injections,” the marketer continued. “People are running the numbers again,” and getting storage accounts filled up early doesn’t look so urgent any more.

The marketer also was seeing signs of the approaching bidweek. “A few utilities are shopping their May transport around,” he said, and he was hearing Chicago numbers running from index flat to a small premium. “For example, I saw NIPSCO traded today at the NGI index plus 1 cent.” Chicago citygate basis is around minus 3.5 cents for May, he added.

The National Weather Service expects cool but moderate temperatures for nearly all of the U.S. during the final workweek of April. In its forecast for the April 25-29 period, the federal agency predicts below normal temperatures everywhere west and south of a line running from Southern California northeastward through southern Nevada and central Utah before curving northward through the middle of Wyoming and Utah. The only area where it predicted above normal readings is in Washington state and the northern half of Oregon.

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