In spite of much colder weather returning Friday to the Midcontinent/Midwest and prior-day futures support, cash prices fell at all points but one Thursday. On the bearish side, seasonal temperatures would continue for one more day in the Northeast, and a warming trend in the eastern half of the South meant fairly mild conditions will stretch from coast to coast across the southern tier of states Friday.

A flat Houston Ship Channel was the sole exception to the declines everywhere else, and it was hard to understand why it would be marching to a different price drummer because Friday’s Houston-area highs were expected to repeat those in the mid 70s Thursday.

The rest of the market recorded drops ranging from about a nickel to a little more than $1.80. Northeast citygates repeated Wednesday’s triple-digit plunges, although the amount of decline was considerably smaller Thursday.

Wednesday’s gain of 13.8 cents by February futures obviously had no impact in pushing cash prices higher Thursday, but sources expect Thursday’s 9.9-cent screen decline to have a similarly impotent effect as they look for higher cash market prices Friday.

Several pipelines were either extending or preparing to implement restrictions related to forecasts of extra-cold weather in the East (see Transportation Notes). The biggest chill will be felt in the Midwest, where lows in single digits and below zero will be common. The Midcontinent won’t feel such a frosty bite, but it can expect to bottom out at below-freezing temperatures. Much colder weather isn’t predicted to arrive in the Northeast until Saturday.

Northern Natural Gas declared System Overrun Limitations in preparation for very frigid conditions in the Midwest through the weekend. It projected system weighted average temperatures of three degrees Friday, minus two Saturday and one Sunday. Despite the heavy heating load implicit in such cold, the pipeline’s demarc and Ventura trading locations dropped about 30 cents and a little more than a nickel, respectively.

On the West Coast, however, SoCalGas extended a high-linepack OFO as merely cool weather continues in Southern California. The SoCal citygate and Southern California border each fell about half a dollar.

The eastern half of the South, which was still experiencing sub-freezing lows at some locations as recently as Thursday, will be trying to catch up to its western counterpart with a warming trend that will take highs into the 50s and 60s Friday. The western South has already been warmer than that since midweek, with highs in the 60s and 70s due to continue.

Residents of the sparsely populated northern Rockies will shiver the most Friday, while the rest of the West will remain seasonably cold to merely cool.

A Texas-based marketer said he was still not seeing much buying interest, even with the much colder weather arriving in the Midwest. The most likely explanation, he said, is that with more moderate temperatures in the national forecast from next week into early February, utility and industrial buyers feel safe in making maximum withdrawals from storage now, which is reducing the demand for new spot gas.

But the marketer said he thinks most prices, at least in the East, will be up Friday. Besides the cold, pipeline constraints on transport services will contribute to cash bullishness, he added. He predicted $10-14 numbers in the Northeast Friday.

A Northeast marketer agreed. There were big dives again in the region Thursday, he acknowledged, but with significantly colder weather returning this weekend, citygates should see “significantly higher” numbers Friday.

A Midwest utility staffer said local weather was “gorgeous,” Thursday but it would be back into the deep freeze there and in most of the rest of the Midwest Friday. For that reason she thought it kind of strange that gas prices for Friday flows were lower.

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