Natural gas futures fell Thursday morning after the Energy Information Administration (EIA) reported a storage withdrawal for the week ending Jan. 8 that was less than the market had expected.
The EIA reported a 168 Bcf withdrawal in its 10:30 a.m. EDT release, which put inventories at 3,475 Bcf. February dropped to a low of $2.166 following release of the storage data, and by 10:45 a.m. February was trading at $2.180, down 8.9 cents from Wednesday's settlement.
Prior to the release of the data, analysts' estimates were in the 177 Bcf range. ICAP Energy was looking for a pull of 182 Bcf and a Reuters survey of 21 traders and analysts showed a range from -158 Bcf to -192 Bcf, with an average -178 Bcf. IAF Advisors calculated a 177 Bcf withdrawal.
"We were looking for a number around 178 Bcf and it came in at 168," said a New York floor trader. "We were trading around $2.225 when the number came out and it came off about 6 cents off the number. I don't think you will see anything [support] until $2.10, but greater support will be at $2."
"The 168 Bcf in net withdrawals was less than the consensus expectation, a minor bearish surprise that suggests at least a modest weakening of the background supply/demand balance," said Tim Evans of Citi Futures Perspective. "This will increase market confidence that it can ignore the prospect of higher withdrawals expected for this week and next, jumping to the conclusion that winter may as well be over."
Using the five-region format, inventories now stand at 3,475 Bcf and are 587 Bcf greater than last year and 474 Bcf more than the five-year average. In the East Region 55 Bcf was pulled, and the Midwest Region saw inventories fall by 41 Bcf. Stocks in the Mountain Region were down by 8 Bcf and the Pacific region was lower by 18 Bcf. The South Central Region, closely similar to the former Producing Region, dropped 46 Bcf.
Salt cavern storage was down 15 Bcf to 364 Bcf, while the non-salt cavern figure fell 30 Bcf to 895 Bcf.