With no drag from a weekend load slump playing a role, colder weather due in the Northeast and Midwest early this week, and the delayed support of a bullish storage report and its accompanying screen run-up Thursday, the March aftermarket got off to an impressively strong launch Friday.

Although many Gulf Coast points and a few in the Northeast gained less than a dime or were even flat in some cases, the rest of the market flexed stronger price muscle with double-digit increases ranging up to about 30 cents or so.

Because Saturday-Sunday supplies were covered in Thursday’s trading through the end of the month, Friday deals were unaffected by the usual industrial drop in demand over a weekend. And there was no doubt that Thursday’s above-expectations storage withdrawal reported by EIA, which generated a 17-cent futures gain that day, helped restore some bullish feeling in the cash market, sources said.

At first glance it may have looked curious that Northern Natural Gas had a System Underrun Limitation (indicating higher than desired linepack) in place for Saturday and Sunday, but the pipeline’s demarcation and Ventura points were among Friday’s strongest with gains of around a quarter and 20 cents respectively. But the key was that Monday’s forecast was looking colder, said the fuel buyer for a Midwestern utility served by NNG. His city is expecting a high around 40 degrees Monday, compared to highs of 50 or so over the weekend.

The buyer also noted that some of the swing price strength may have been because some winter term deals (November-March) start ramping down in March. He knew that his own company was lowering the volumes of its term contracts this month.

A Canadian producer reported that the Calgary area had problems with rotating overnight power outages, some of which lasted into the morning, “and that caused a few trading problems for some of us.” Despite the apparent strength of Friday’s numbers, he said much of the market “didn’t follow the screen all that much.” He explained that most of Thursday’s futures run-up occurred after cash finished trading, so Friday’s settlement was about 20 cents above the April position when cash was active Thursday. A majority of points fell short of rising 20 cents, he said.

A snowstorm was due to have left the Southeast by Friday night, yielding to milder weekend temperatures, but leaving a heavy load of wet snow behind it. Also, The Weather Channel said a strong upper-level cold front would be in Oklahoma and Texas around Sunday and moving eastward through the early part of this week. The Northeast is expected to remain on the mild side through Monday before getting a new cold front Tuesday.

The West was starting to see some relief after a severe winter storm had moved from Northern California through the upper Rockies. Although its linepack had dipped slightly under minimum target levels Thursday and Friday, PG&E projected it returning close to the middle of the desired range Saturday through Monday and issued no OFO. The utility also was ramping back up at its Diablo Canyon nuclear plant, which had been cut to approximately one-quarter output Wednesday due to the winter storm in its service territory. Unit 2 was expected to be at full power again around midday Friday, while Unit 1 would be held at 85% for a while because of increased temperatures in the main generating system, a news report quoted PG&E as saying. Each unit is rated at 1,100 megawatts.

Little March trading remained to be completed Friday. Looking back, a buyer at the Southern California border said the market started out at its weakest point last Monday and that some high $4.60s border deals might have been done that day. But generally it seemed that most business got done Tuesday around the mid $4.70s, he said. “The trading range really wasn’t all that wide this month, especially in comparison to some prior months. It helped [limit volatility] that the screen didn’t move around that much. In prior months we had the screen moving up and down 30 cents or more and [cash prices] were all over the place.”

A Texas-based utility buyer said he bought only one small package for March, and that was around mid-February. His utility’s needs are relatively low for this month both because the Lone Star state will not be seeing much air conditioning load yet and also because he had some storage gas left that has to be used before March ends, the buyer added.

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