Numbers stronger than weekend declines but still mostly softer.

Following weekend drops at virtually all points, the market returned to nearly unchanged numbers for the most part Monday. But despite overall mixed price movement, softness continued to be the dominant tone.

All changes were in single digits, and several locations saw numbers that were essentially the same as Friday. A few points, primarily in the storm-ravaged Northeast, rose from a couple of pennies to nearly a dime. A definite majority of the market, though, recorded declines ranging from 2-3 cents to nearly a dime.

The previous Friday’s 4-cent dip by April futures played a part in the general softness Monday, and Tuesday’s cash market can’t count on any screen support after the prompt-month contract fell another 0.9 cent (see related story).

Although chillier weather was revisiting several sections of the South that had enjoyed moderate spring-like conditions during the previous week, and lows around freezing — or not much higher or lower — were still in the forecast for most of Canada, the Rockies and parts of the Midwest and Northeast, heating demand obviously was insufficient to lift prices.

However, although a Midwest utility buyer said the market was “pretty quiet up here,” he acknowledged that many of his company’s customers still had their furnaces running because of nighttime lows around freezing. But he was not having to buy any spot gas, baseload supply and storage were easily handling the heating demand, he said.

A marketer was just getting back into the swing of things after more than a week off. Based on futures and weather forecasts, he said he looked for “more of the same” in Tuesday’s pricing — that is, mostly flat with modest softness dominant. The marketer said he already was getting some April deals done at either index or basis pricing, but producers were a bit reluctant to commit to next month supplies at only the middle of March.

The Baker Hughes Rotary Rig Count, which often has seen steep weekly increases in the number of rigs drilling for natural gas in the U.S. since late last year, took a breather of sorts during the week ending March 12. Baker Hughes racked up a net addition of one rig for an operating total of 927. Six joined the search in the Gulf of Mexico, which previously had been recording mostly declines, Baker Hughes said, but five rigs were deactivated onshore. The company’s latest tally is up 4% from a month ago and 5% higher than the year-earlier tally.

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