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Highly Uncertain Storage Figures On Tap; February Called 15 Cents Higher

February natural gas is expected to open 15 cents higher Thursday morning at $2.36 as traders factor in additional cooling and a high-risk storage report. Overnight oil markets were mixed.

The release of Energy Information Administration (EIA) storage data could be full of market surprises as estimates are all over the map. "This week's survey forecast range was wildly wide: -39 to -78 Bcf," said John Sodergreen, editor of Energy Metro Desk (EMD). He cited a low confidence level among the analysts surveyed and said, "The range between the three categories we track is 5.5 Bcf, which according to our Tealeaves, points to a possible surprise report out of EIA." He added that the EMD survey resulted in an average 60 Bcf, but "We see a high-side bias to this week's potential surprise report, so, EIA reporting a draw in the low-to-mid -60s (or more) should be about right."

Last year, 29 Bcf was withdrawn and the five-year pace stands at a stout 95 Bcf pull. IAF Advisors is looking for a decline of 62 Bcf, and ICAP Energy calculates a 66 Bcf withdrawal. A Dow Jones survey resulted in an average of -54 Bcf with a range of -30 Bcf to -70 Bcf.

Forecasters see increased cooling in the medium term. Commodity Weather Group in its morning 11- to 15-day outlook shows below-normal temperatures extending west of a sinuous line extending from Montana to Illinois to Louisiana. Above-normal temperatures are seen along the Atlantic Seaboard from Connecticut to Florida.

"The last few days have seen the biggest model swings of the entire heating season to date, with the European moving heavily warmer for two cycles in a row two days ago, and now the most recent two runs have flipped strongly colder thanks to a combination of a stronger cold push to the East Coast early next week and a faster timing of the big cold front in the 11-15 day range.

"The stronger cold in the Northeast early next week is something that has been brewing on the operational models for a few days now, and with blocking building in the high latitudes, the transport of a stronger event is a reasonable risk," said Matt Rogers, president of the firm.

Tom Saal, vice president at FC Stone Latin America LLC in Miami, in his work with Market Profile expects the market to test Wednesday's value area at $2.229 to $2.199 before moving on to test value areas at $2.377 to $2.351 and $2.089 to $2.059. Saal said he was unsure in which order the last two value areas would be tested.

In overnight Globex trading February crude oil fell 26 cents to $36.34/bbl and February RBOB gasoline rose fractionally to $1.2450/gal.

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