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Storage Report Seen With Surprises; January Called 2 Cents Lower

January natural gas is expected to open 2 cents lower Thursday morning at $2.15 as traders juggle storage data expected to show the first withdrawal of the season with the holiday weekend. Overnight oil markets recovered moderately.

Analysts are looking for a withdrawal in the upper-40 Bcf lower-50 Bcf range, which would put the figure right in line with long-term averages. Last year, 42 Bcf was withdrawn and the five-year pace is for a 48 Bcf pull. ICAP Energy calculates a 47 Bcf decline, and industry consultant Genscape is looking for a 54 Bcf draw. A Reuters survey of 26 industry cognoscenti revealed a sample mean of 51 Bcf with a range from -24 Bcf to -66 Bcf.

Some see a bullish surprise in play. "While 47-51 Bcf in net withdrawals would still look neutral to modestly supportive relative to a 42 Bcf decline a year ago and the 48 Bcf five-year average for the date, this could still be seen as a disappointment given the early November forecasts for a more intense cycle of cold," said Tim Evans of Citi Futures Perspective.

"With our model returning a somewhat more robust 60 Bcf net withdrawal, we see some chance of a minor bullish surprise but would anticipate only a limited price reaction given the more bearish intermediate-term picture," he said in closing comments Wednesday.

Other analysts also see the potential for a surprise but for different reasons. "[L]et's not forget last week was a holiday week, and a holiday that also featured the first across-the-board draw of the season, too," said John Sodergreen, editor of Energy Metro Desk. "We don't think that has ever happened before. And total generation outages were up last week too...We see sparks flying at 10:30 Thursday morning -- just like last year, where we had a very fast 7-cent move in the first second following release. EIA came in at -22 Bcf (it was later adjusted) and the market was expecting a pull of -38 Bcf." Sodergreen's survey is looking for a 43 Bcf pull.

Near-term weather outlooks haven't changed. Tuesday's National Weather Service six- to 10-day forecast shows a sea of red and brown (above normal to much above normal temperatures) from coast to coast, as does Wednesday's outlook.

In overnight Globex trading January crude oil rose 83 cents to $40.77/bbl and January RBOB gasoline gained a penny to $1.3038/gal.

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