Weekend prices showed almost a directly opposite pattern from deals done a day earlier. Whereas Northeast citygates had spiked Thursday while the rest of the market was softer, on Friday it was the Northeast (along with the Rockies) plunging while all other points were rising, based largely on the bullish Nymex response to Thursday morning’s storage withdrawal report.

Despite overall warming trends from the frigid conditions prevailing earlier in the week, most points were flat to nearly 35 cents higher. Others recorded losses ranging from a little more than a dime to nearly $2.20.

The firmness outside the Northeast market area was mainly due to Thursday’s 40-cent spike by January futures as heating load was expected to diminish over the weekend in several regions but remain fairly substantial for the most part.

Monday’s cash market will have negative futures support after the January contract fell 13.5 cents Friday (see related story).

It was a bullish signal for Monday pricing after some pipelines ended capacity restrictions that had been aimed at combating severe cold in their market areas (see Transportation Notes).

Although a frigid week continued through Thursday for most of the U.S. and Canada, slightly more moderate — but still cold — conditions were in store over the weekend. Parts of the Northeast, Midwest, Upper Plains, Rockies and Western Canada were destined to remain below freezing for a while longer. But milder temperatures would creep into the South, Midwest, Northeast and Rockies, according to Madison, WI-based Weather Central.

Some of the firmness in the West was fueled by supply shortness, at least partially attributable to reports of shut-ins of frozen wellheads in the Rockies. Although Kern River said Thursday its linepack had returned to normal after being low earlier in the week, El Paso said Friday it had set the probability of declaring a Strained Operating Condition to high due to low linepack. In addition, NOVA said the forecast of a significant drop in Alberta temperatures might lead to low linepack on its system. It urged shippers to refer to the Alberta System Current Report at TransCanada.com for current supply, demand and linepack conditions.

In light of moderating temperatures in several areas over the weekend, a Midcontinent producer said, there was little substantiation for Friday’s mostly higher prices other than Thursday’s futures gain in response to the storage report. His company was continuing to see less industrial demand than before, he said.

The producer expressed the hope that the market will stabilize, “probably a little lower,” during the upcoming week. Midcontinent-to-Midwest spreads recently are not as tight as they were a couple of months ago, which provides “a little bit more trading opportunity,” he said.

Barclays Capital analysts said Thursday’s above-expectations of a 64 Bcf storage withdrawal “forced a double-take.” The 24 Bcf pull in the Producing Region “was perhaps the biggest surprise and could be a result of intrastate pipeline flows that are not picked up in ‘scrape’ models,” they said.

After a no-change position in the preceding week, the number of drilling rigs actively searching for natural gas in the U.S. resumed a rise during the week ending Dec. 11, according to the Baker Hughes Rotary Rig Count. Its latest tally was up by nine to 757, with an increase of two rigs in the Gulf of Mexico being supplemented by an addition of seven onshore. The active rig count is up by 4% from a month ago but 45% less than the year-earlier level, Baker Hughes said.

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