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'Downside Open,' Analyst Says; March Called 5 Cents Lower

March natural gas is expected to open 5 cents lower Thursday morning at $1.89 as traders note moderating weather forecasts and the looming end of the withdrawal season. Overnight oil markets gained.

Natgasweather.com in its noon Wednesday model run noted little change with expected warmth in the near term. "Regarding the latest 12z operational GFS run that just completed: The data is little changed through the weekend with nice warming across the country apart from a weather system through the West. This run is a little less cold with the system mid next week as the area of snow sets up through the Ohio Valley instead of Northeast but is a little colder with a reinforcing shot at the end of the week to make up for it.

"However, it continues to show warming after in the Day 12-16 period but still with cooling spilling into the northern U.S. at times. This run is a little colder than the overnight 00z run for a slight bullish trend, but also consider the overnight run was a bit too warm days 11-15."

Following Wednesday's modest gains, Tim Evans of Citi Futures Perspective said Thursday's storage report was showing estimates "running near 150 Bcf in net withdrawals, a supportive step up from the 70 Bcf draw in the prior week but still less than the 170 Bcf five-year average decline."

He said that Wednesday's slightly cooler temperature forecasts "translated into slightly larger storage withdrawals in the weeks ahead. Although slightly less bearish than a day ago, with storage as forecast the year-on-five-year average storage surplus still trends higher from 543 Bcf on Feb. 5 to 668 Bcf as of March 4.

"In general, a rising storage surplus confirms that the market is becoming more oversupplied on a seasonally adjusted basis, with a corresponding downward fundamental pressure on prices. Prices may still be able to turn higher or avoid new lows, but the rising surplus still reduces the market's upside potential and leaves the downside open. Combined with the approaching end of the heating season, we see this rising surplus dictating a retest of the $1.684 spot low from December, with even lower levels a possibility."

Evans recommends entering the market from the short side via April futures using a $2.15 limit order with a protective buy stop at $2.35 to limit the initial risk on the trade.

Evans estimates a withdrawal from storage in Thursday's storage report of 150 Bcf. Last year, 117 Bcf was withdrawn and the five-year pace is a 170 Bcf pull. IAF Advisors calculates a 152

Bcf decline, and a Reuters poll of 20 traders and analysts revealed a sample mean of -154 Bcf with a range of -139 to -186 Bcf.

In overnight Globex trading March crude oil gained 75 cents to $31.41/bbl and March RBOB gasoline rose a cent to $1.0163/gal.

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