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Bears Roaming Following EIA Storage Report

Natural gas futures continued to grind lower Thursday morning following the release of government storage figures showing usage to be somewhat less than what the market was expecting.

For the week ended Jan. 30, the Energy Information Administration (EIA) reported a decrease of 115 Bcf in its 10:30 a.m. EST release, just a few Bcf below estimates. March futures fell to a low of $2.578 after the number was released and by 10:45 a.m. March was trading at $2.601, down 6.1 cents from Wednesday's settlement.

Prior to the release of the data, analysts were looking for a decrease of about 120 Bcf. IAF Advisors analysts calculated a 111 Bcf decline, but a Reuters survey of 21 industry observers revealed an average 122 Bcf with a range of 104 Bcf to 141 Bcf. Analysts at ICAP Energy were looking for a 119 Bcf pull, and Bentek Energy' s flow model predicted a 112 Bcf withdrawal.

"The market stayed down on the number. There is nothing bullish about the market although there was some sympathy with crude the other day when the market rallied. There is no bullish sentiment in natural gas, although you may see some anomalies on profit taking," said a New York floor trader.

Tim Evans of Citi Futures Perspective saw the number as bearish. "The net withdrawal of 115 Bcf was both less than expected and below the 166 Bcf five-year average for the date, a clearly bearish result. The draw was less than anticipated for a third consecutive week, helping to reinforce the idea that the background supply-demand balance has weakened, with bearish implications for future reports."

Inventories now stand at 2,428 Bcf and are 468 Bcf greater than last year and 29 Bcf below the five-year average. In the East Region 87 Bcf was withdrawn, and the West Region saw inventories fall 4 Bcf. Stocks in the Producing Region declined by 10 Bcf.

The Producing Region salt cavern storage figure fell by 10 Bcf from the previous week to 247 Bcf, while the non-salt cavern figure dropped 14 Bcf to 616 Bcf.

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