Cash prices worked higher Thursday amid nuclear outages and supportive weather in a few regions of the country. Northeast points registered stout gains, and for the most part traders were able to complete their exchanges prior to the 10:30 a.m. EST Energy Information Administration (EIA) report that showed a withdrawal of 166 Bcf, somewhat lighter than expected.

At the close of futures trading March had given up 2.2 cents to $2.621 and April had fallen 1.4 cents to $2.761. On average cash prices nationwide were 7 cents higher. April crude oil rocketed higher by $1.55 to $107.83/bbl.

At California points traders expected Friday’s trade for weekend gas to ease as most trades Thursday were completed prior to the weaker futures and weekend parcels typically reflect weaker demand.

“PG&E Citygate settled at $2.97 and I would expect the weekend strip to be lower than that,” said a California trader. The trader also mentioned that the light winter snowpack was getting some of the attention. “It’s more of a concern to the power side, and there may be some increase in gas demand because of it, but there is so much gas in storage in California that it’s not quite as worrisome as in the past.”

The California Department of Water Resources (DWR) said as of Thursday the statewide snow-water equivalent was just seven inches, only 25% of the average April 1 reading and 30% of normal. As a point of reference DWR said the Sacramento River Region unimpaired runoff observed through Jan. 31, 2012 was about 2.3 million acre-feet (MAF), which is about 41% of average. By comparison, the observed Sacramento River Region unimpaired runoff through Jan. 31, 2011 was about 6.2 MAF, or about 108% of average.

At present the PG&E Citygate basis stands at about 30 cents, and if confronted with low hydro supplies, that could widen considerably under normal gas storage conditions. “Not this year,” the trader said. In his view there is just too much gas in storage.

PG&E Citygate was quoted unchanged, but other California points were stronger. Malin was just under a dime higher and SoCal Citygate added a nickel.

Northeast price gains outpaced the averages with a number of double-digit advances. Algonquin Citygate and Tennessee Zone 6 200L were higher by more than a dime, and Dracut rose by 15 cents. Transco Zone 6 into New York, however, was only a few pennies higher.

“It’s all weather, and I think a small nuclear plant is down,” said an eastern marketer. Boston’s high of 54 Thursday was expected to drop to 41 Friday, according to forecaster

According to the NGI‘s NRC Power Reactor Status Report, a total of 26 nuclear plants representing a loss of 14,285 MW were offline. At the same time in 2010 there was 7,643 MW offline and in 2011 outages were just 5,915 MW. Total U.S. capacity is about 100,900 MW that is generated from 104 facilities.

Great Lakes points firmed as well. Chicago Citygate, Consumers and Michcon quotes improved by just over a nickel.

Risk managers are looking for at least a steady market and are reluctant to place short hedges. “At some point you have to ask, ‘is it worthwhile [to implement short hedges for customers]?’ I haven’t felt compelled to so,” said Mike DeVooght, president of Devo Capital Management, a Colorado-based trading and risk management firm. “The market seems to be putting in a bottom, and I am hoping for a short-covering rally. There hasn’t been any interest by buyers, but with crude oil going crazy maybe that will prompt interest in the long side.”

Futures traders didn’t show much interest in the long side even though the EIA gas storage figure of 166 Bcf demonstrated greater usage relative to last year and the five-year average. Last year 102 Bcf was withdrawn, and the five-year pace stands at 145 Bcf. Expectations, however, had been for a somewhat greater pull. IAF Advisors of Houston calculated a 175 Bcf draw, and industry consultant Bentek Energy predicted a 174 Bcf withdrawal.

Others were looking for a surprise. “Our consensus this week was higher than all major surveys by 5-7 Bcf, but we think a pull in the mid-170s or higher is a distinct possibility,” said John Sodergreen, editor of Energy Metro Desk.” He said the consensus for the survey was a “high 167 Bcf.”

At the open of floor trading Thursday market technicians saw the March contract as only 9 cents away from breaking upside resistance. “[We] see $2.736 as key near-term resistance and $2.474 as key near-term support,” said Brian LaRose, market technician with United-ICAP. Should trading take the market higher, he viewed retracement objectives at $2.860-2.880 and $3.018-3.063 as the next hurdles for the bulls. However, a drop below $2.474 means downside objectives at $2.421 and $2.229 come into play.

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