February natural gas was set to open Friday about 12 cents lower at around $2.759 as forecasters noted warmer changes to the medium- and long-range weather outlooks.
The overnight declines follow Thursday's 12.8 cent sell-off, which came after the Energy Information Administration (EIA) reported the first real gauge of the recent cold blast's impact on storage inventories -- a 206 Bcf withdrawal that disappointed versus market expectations.
NatGasWeather.com said Friday the prior day's selling was "aided by warmer trending midday weather data. The overnight weather data held milder trends, especially with a less impressive weather system across the Midwest and Northeast Jan. 9-10, and also with a very strong ridge setting up to dominate almost the entire country Jan. 16-20."
This ridge could be the primary catalyst for recent selling, NatGasWeather said, noting that it's projected to bring "widespread milder than normal conditions and much lighter demand...We thought the after-EIA report trade would be telling of true market sentiment, and with prices selling off sharply, the markets have clearly spoken -- milder temperatures on the back end of the forecast are far more important than the recent and current frigid Arctic blasts."
MDA Weather Services also observed warmer changes to both its six- to 10-day and 11-15 day outlooks.
In the 11-15 day forecast, "changes focused in the Midcontinent downstream of downslope winds off of the Rockies. The larger scale pattern features a Pacific flow enhanced by low pressure in the Gulf of Alaska and an associated increase in storminess into the Pacific Northwest," MDA said.
"Most areas from the West Coast to the Midcontinent have temperatures on the warm side of normal, but with the East being slower to warm under high pressure through mid-period."
From a technical perspective, ICAP Technical Analysis analyst Brian LaRose said following Thursday's close the bulls could be in trouble.
"Houston, we have a problem," LaRose said. "I explicitly stated over the last several days that the bulls had absolutely no case for a greater recovery unless they could better $3.089-3.130. Now we have natural gas plunging from a $3.097 high -- amid forecasts for record-setting low temperatures across much of North America, I might add.
"Peg $2.681-2.646 as the lowest levels consistent with any corrective retreat."
February crude oil was set to open about 61 cents lower at around $61.40/bbl Friday, while February RBOB gasoline was down about a penny at around $1.7940.