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Next Move Is in Bulls Court; February Seen Flat

February natural gas is set to open unchanged Wednesday morning at $3.28 as traders adopt a "show me" approach to continued market gains. Overnight oil markets rose.

Market technicians versed in Elliott Wave and retracement analysis see further market gains dependent upon whether certain key hurdles can be met. "While $3.099-3.030-3.009 was able to propel natgas higher on Tuesday, bulls were unable to bust through the 0.236 retracement at $3.309 or shift the technical readings back in their favor," said Brian LaRose, a market analyst at United ICAP.

"So best we can label Tuesday's price action is constructive. Will be watching to see if the bulls can complete these two tasks Wednesday. If they can, then natgas should have a chance to stage a recovery from here."

That recovery may come sooner rather than later. According to a Tuesday report from the Energy Information Administration (EIA), U.S. natural gas prices are looking stronger than they did in early December, with Henry Hub now expected to average $3.55/MMBtu in 2017, compared with last month's forecast of $3.27.

The latest edition of the Short-Term Energy Outlook (STEO) said Henry Hub spot prices, which averaged $2.51/MMBtu in 2016, should climb through 2017 and be more than $1.00 higher year/year. The new forecast, the first to include a call for 2018, sees next year's prices also higher, averaging $3.73.

Near-term weather forecasts continued to trend warmer. "Trends were in the warmer direction once again in this period, with these adjustments focused in parts of the Central U.S. and South," said MDA Weather Services in its morning six- to 10-day report to clients.

"The West, however, is marginally colder versus [Tuesday's] report while the East goes mostly unchanged on the whole. The large-scale pattern remains warmer than normal for most locales across the U.S., including temperatures in the strong above normal category in parts of the Midwest and South.

In overnight Globex trading February crude oil gained 31 cents to $51.13/bbl and February RBOB gasoline rose 2 cents to $1.5946/gal.

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