Just when it seemed the cash market was locked into an endless downward spiral, it found a plateau on which to level off Thursday. Flatness was the order of the day for most points, while others were mildly higher or lower. Spot points in California and the Pacific Northwest/Western Canada softened by about a nickel or a little more.

Many sources agreed that the respite from declining prices is almost certain to be brief. A marketer reflected the consensus in predicting a “free-fall” in today’s trading. The usual large slump in demand over a holiday weekend will be compounded by a dearth of air conditioning load in most regions, he said. However, another source wasn’t so sure about huge price drops. “There are some good buys developing, and I’ll be there,” he said.

At least a couple of traders were a bit mystified by the general flatness of Thursday’s numbers, noting that with the exception of high temperatures remaining in the desert Southwest, weather fundamentals are getting even weaker elsewhere. Sources from Texas to Georgia reported that lately it just hasn’t seemed like summer in the South, with conditions feeling more like mid-fall instead.

A producer said he also didn’t expect the market to level off like it did Thursday, but hazarded a guess that softness has been so pervasive during much of August that the downturn finally “had to catch its breath.” He also thought pipeline cash-outs may have lent some support to end-of-month numbers, and noted that cash got a small boost from the October futures contract, which was a nickel or more higher during the morning before giving back nearly all its gains that afternoon.

Although neighboring Florida Gas Transmission still had a low-linepack OFO that began Sunday in effect for its system through at least yesterday, Sonat advised shippers that unless it sees significant reductions in supply for Saturday’s gas day, “an OFO Type 6 will be implemented in order to protect the operational integrity of the system.”

The fire at BP Canada’s Fort Saskatchewan ethane facility continues to cause the shut-in of some Alberta field receipts, a Calgary-based marketer said. The blaze eventually could also affect Westcoast’s McMahon Plant, which ships liquids via the Peace River line to the Fort Saskatchewan facility, she said. For now McMahon is diverting output to other British Columbia facilities, but it may have to shut down if the fire lasts much more than another week, the marketer said. Such an event appears likely since TransCanada Alberta (NOVA) said on its bulletin board that BP Canada had estimated the fire would last for at least two more weeks.

There was some buzz among traders about a tropical wave south of the Cape Verde Islands that was considered a good candidate for strengthening. However, its great distance from the U.S. East Coast meant people could go home for the holiday weekend with no concerns about Gulf of Mexico production before they return to their offices Tuesday, a marketer said.

As the September bidweek started winding down Thursday, quotes fell a bit further but not as much as they had softened in the previous couple of days, sources said. A Chicago citygate trader said September prices held up for most of the morning while people focused on day trading, then started to go lower again around midday. For a while Chicago traded as much as 20 cents back of the October screen, he said.

A western trader reporting PG&E citygates ranging from the mid $2.80s all the way down to the mid $2.40s noted, “We expected it to come down, but not quite this hard.” A marketer reporting Thursday purchases at Malin in the high $2.20s thought they “were really good buy opportunities compared to current swing,” which she quoted as on either side of $2.50 at Malin.

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