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December natural gas was set to open about 2 cents higher Thursday at around $3.10 as all eyes turn to the 10:30 a.m. EDT release of the Energy Information Administration's (EIA) storage inventory data.
EIA is expected to report the season's first withdrawal for the week ended Nov. 10.
A Reuters survey of traders and analysts is calling for a 14 Bcf withdrawal, with a range of -3 Bcf to -23 Bcf. Stephen Smith Energy Associates, which revised its estimate Tuesday, is now projecting a slightly smaller withdrawal of 14 Bcf, ION Energy's Kyle Cooper is forecasting a 17 Bcf withdrawal, while PointLogic Energy is calling for a 6 Bcf withdrawal.
By historical comparisons, a withdrawal for the period would be bullish. Last year, 34 Bcf was injected, while the five-year average stands at +12 Bcf.
While a withdrawal is priced in at this point, the market could still pivot on the EIA report as ongoing mixed signals from the weather models create some uncertainty in the outlook, according to Price Futures Group senior analyst Phil Flynn.
Flynn told NGI Wednesday that a bearish report could lead the market to fill a gap in the chart from $2.98 to $3.05, while a bullish move at this point could mean that gap doesn't get filled until after winter.
"Natural gas is in a flux as weather models continue to differ about how cold the next weather cycle is going to get," Flynn said in Thursday morning note to clients. "As natural gas is at a low level a possible price spike could happen if we come on the colder end. Most of the trade has been leaning toward the warmer forecast, but based on some models, that could be wrong. If they are, then we could see a 20-cent spike. If it stays, then we should go fill the gap on the downside and target about $2.980."
In its updated 11-15 day outlook Thursday, MDA Weather Services said, "Forecast changes were fairly small in this period, with yet another round of below-normal temperatures pressing into the eastern half. This comes as high pressure dives southward from Canada and into the region, with the forecast being colder versus the European model but not as cold as the Global Forecast System with this feature.
"Following the high's passage toward the East, above-normal temperatures push into the Midcontinent, although the Southwest and Rockies remain the focus for aboves. Given differing model solutions with the upstream northern Pacific evolution, confidence remains lower than usual overall."
December crude oil fell in overnight trading and was set to open about 14 cents lower at $55.19/bbl. December RBOB Gasoline fell fractionally overnight to $1.7290/gal.