The cash market was approximately evenly divided between rising and falling points Thursday, with most of the newfound firmness following Wednesday’s drops at nearly all locations based on moderate prior-day screen support and residual cold in sections of the West. The overall weather outlook was bearish as temperatures in most areas are forecast to be above seasonal levels Friday.

Most of the numbers that were flat to nearly 15 cents higher were in the West, where forecasts of Friday lows around freezing or less in the Rockies, Pacific Northwest and Western Canada, and PG&E’s expansion of a low-inventory OFO indicated a bit of supply tightness.

The rest of the market saw losses ranging from 2-3 cents to about half a dollar. Northeast citygates again led the descent, but with considerably smaller declines than their triple-digit plunges of the preceding two days.

A couple of analysts were dead-on accurate in estimating a 102 Bcf storage pull for the week ending Feb. 27 because that is exactly what the Energy Information Administration reported Thursday. Despite the number being on the high end of overall consensus expectations on either side of 100 Bcf, Nymex traders sent April gas futures 25.2 cents lower because of more bad economic news and the draw falling short of historical comparisons (see related story).

It is still storage withdrawal season, correct? Well, Southern Natural Gas cited the anticipation of “much warmer weather” in its market area in saying it expected storage requirements to exceed its maximum capability for injection (yes, it said “injection”) requirement by about 250 MMcf/d beginning Saturday.

The PG&E citygate had fallen a nickel Wednesday in spite of a customer-specific low-inventory OFO for Thursday, but the expansion to a systemwide OFO for Friday (see Transportation Notes) helped boost the citygate by a dime Thursday.

There may have been a bit of cooling load responsible for some of Thursday’s higher prices as forecasts of 70s and occasionally 80s highs Friday in the South and Midcontinent may tempt some residents and businesses to crank up their air conditioners.

There won’t be any need for air conditioning in the Northeast and Midwest, but freezing temperatures will be almost entirely out of the picture. Spring-like condition will prevail in both regions, with Chicago due to peak around a relatively balmy 60 degrees Friday.

Gas was becoming a noticeably tougher sell Thursday because of warmer weather in almost every area, a Texas-based marketer said. Also, he noted, a lot of storage users have to get their accounts down to certain levels by the end of March, so that’s undoubtedly backing out some potential spot gas purchases. He was unaware of any pipeline problems, saying transportation is smooth.

A Gulf Coast trader cited futures “crashing” in predicting softer cash prices Friday. Like the marketer, she said she found it a little bit harder than usual to sell her company’s gas Thursday, and said it may be even tougher finding a home for weekend supplies.

Even with Texas temperatures getting up into the low 80s, the trader discounted the likelihood of any substantive power generation load for gas yet in the Lone Star State. Daytime warmth is partially offset by cooler temperatures at night, and baseload generation (mostly using fuels other than natural gas) is probably more than adequate to handle any air conditioners being cranked up, she said.

Currently temperatures are “very mild,” a utility buyer in the Lower Midwest said, but the forecast calls for his area to get colder again around the middle of next week. His utility is a little behind on using storage because of warmer weather at times during February, but it shouldn’t have any trouble achieving end-of-season target volumes, he said.

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