Screen, some remaining cold weather help boost most cash points slightly.

Relying on the previous Friday’s gain of 8.4 cents by prompt-month futures, some areas where overnight weather was still getting cold enough to spur modest heating load, and the return of industrial demand from its usual weekend decline, small gains were recorded in most of the cash market Monday.

Flat quotes were common, and few locations strayed by more than a nickel either up or down from unchanged. Flat to about a dime higher numbers were in a solid majority, while only a few points saw losses ranging from 2-3 cents to nearly 15 cents.

Physical prices will be hard-pressed to extend the small gains that dominated trading Monday after April futures ended Friday’s one-day flirtation with firmness and returned to their former losing ways by falling 9 cents to $4.079 (see related story).

Milder weather trends in some areas also will be working against further cash market bullishness. The Midwest has a mixed Tuesday outlook, with high temperature increases of three to 10 degrees in some major cities being offset to some extent by declines of up to about five degrees in others. But following a weekend of rather unseasonable chill, nearly all of the South can expect substantial increases, such as New Orleans going from a peak around 57 Monday to around 74 Tuesday, according to Madison, WI-based Weather Central.

But Monday’s overall gains, albeit small, were backed at least partially by forecasts of colder conditions in some other areas, with parts of western/central Canada, the Rockies and Northeast due to see temperatures drop. And although the Midwest will see a few areas get warmer, it will join the other regions in still recording lows ranging from the teens through the 40s for the most part.

Excess supply situations in the West appeared to be easing as both SoCalGas and PG&E ended high-linepack OFOs and El Paso reported that its linepack had returned to normal Monday after getting higher than desired during the weekend. However, at least one issue was resurfacing as SoCalGas issued a new OFO for Tuesday (see Transportation Notes).

Tim Evans of Citi Futures Perspective is among analysts expecting to see 2010 storage injections begin as early as in this Thursday’s report. Evan projects builds of 15 Bcf each for the weeks ending March 19 and March 26.

A western trader said the West Coast was experiencing a little bit less heating load than last week but added that weather demand still must be fairly decent since prices at most points in the region were up a few cents. It might have helped that basis spreads into California from the Southwest production basins “were pretty good,” he said, which might have prompted a few people to lay in storage already.

The trader reported hearing bits of talk about April bidweek here and there but said no numbers were begin discussed yet; “it’s nothing to write home about.”

The number of drilling rigs actively seeking natural gas in the U.S. rose by 12 to 939 in the week ending March 19, according to the Baker Hughes Rotary Rig Count. One joined the search in the Gulf of Mexico while 11 more were deployed onshore, Baker Hughes said. Its latest count is up 5% from a month ago and 10% higher than the year-earlier level.

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