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NatGas Bulls Energized Following First EIA Storage Withdrawal Report

Natural gas futures surged following the release of government storage figures showing a higher withdrawal than what the market was anticipating.

The withdrawal of 17 Bcf for the week ending Nov. 14, which marked the first pull of the 2014-2015 winter heating season, was about 7 Bcf more than market expectations, which were closer to 10 Bcf. Following the Energy Information Administration (EIA) 10:30 a.m. EST report release, December futures shot to a high of $4.502 and by 10:45 a.m., December was trading at $4.410, up 3.9 cents from Wednesday's settlement.

Prior to the release of the data, analysts were looking for a reduction of about 10 Bcf. An analysis by United ICAP revealed a pull of 14 Bcf, and IAF Advisors analysts calculated an 8 Bcf decline. Bentek Energy's flow model anticipated a withdrawal of 7 Bcf.

"We were looking at -10 to -14 Bcf, in that range. It looks like the production didn't show up or it was colder than expected. Just look at Buffalo [New York] and you can see how that might happen; $4.50 is still going to be your resistance level with $4.25 on the downside," said a New York floor trader.

"The 17 Bcf in net withdrawals for last week was somewhat more than the consensus expectation, a modest bullish surprise," said Tim Evans of Citi Futures Perspective. "However, we expect attention to swing more squarely onto this week's cold and the likelihood of a large storage withdrawal in next week's report, which our model currently projects at 131 Bcf, compared with a 6 Bcf five-year average net withdrawal. The overall outlook remains bullish in our view."

Inventories now stand at 3,594 Bcf and are 201 Bcf less than last year and 244 Bcf below the five-year average. In the East Region 11 Bcf was withdrawn and the West Region saw inventories decrease 7 Bcf. Stocks in the Producing Region rose by 1Bcf.

The Producing region salt cavern storage figure added 2 Bcf from the previous week to 329 Bcf, while the non-salt cavern figure fell by 1 Bcf to 817 Bcf.

"U.S. working gas in storage is now at 3,594 Bcf, 6.4% below the five-year average of 3,838 Bcf and 5.3% below last year's level of 3,795 Bcf," said Randy Ollenberger, an analyst with BMO Nesbitt Burns Inc. "Weather forecasts for the U.S. over the next six to 10 days call for below-average temperatures throughout the majority of the Lower 48, but warmer-than-average temperatures on the West Coast. We believe the [17 Bcf] withdrawal report will be viewed as slightly positive given that it was higher than expectations. The natural gas market is clearly comfortable with current storage levels for the upcoming winter heating season given the continued growth in the Marcellus and associated gas production. We believe natural gas prices are likely to drift until winter weather arrives."

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