It's a new record -- and it wasn't even close.
The Energy Information Administration (EIA) reported a staggering 359 Bcf withdrawal from U.S. natural gas stocks for the week ending Jan. 5, a bullish surprise that easily toppled the previous record set in January 2014.
The February contract had already run up above $3.00 ahead of the 10:30 a.m. EDT release of the final number. Once the -359 Bcf figure crossed trading desks, prices quickly bid up above $3.055 before briefly see-sawing back below $2.980. By 11 a.m. EDT, the prompt month was trading around $3.01, up about 10 cents from the previous settle.
Prior to Thursday, the largest net storage pull on record from EIA was a 288 Bcf withdrawal reported on Jan. 10, 2014. The 359 Bcf withdrawal in this week’s report is more than double the year-ago and five-year average withdrawals of 151 Bcf and 162 Bcf, respectively.
Coming off the most potent stretch of heating demand since the notorious polar vortex-influenced 2013-2014 winter, consensus estimates before the report had predicted a record withdrawal. But even with such lofty expectations, the actual number still surpassed the median estimates by around 25 Bcf.
A Reuters survey of traders and analysts showed on average a 333 Bcf withdrawal for the week. Responses to the Reuters survey ranged from -285 Bcf to -362 Bcf. A Bloomberg survey showed a median -332 Bcf, with a range of -305 Bcf to -345 Bcf.
PointLogic Energy called for a 325 Bcf withdrawal. Stephen Smith Energy Associates predicted a withdrawal of 316 Bcf, while Kyle Cooper of IAF Advisors predicted a 338 Bcf pull.
The final withdrawal figure came in "an impressive 31 Bcf more than our estimate," Bespoke Weather Services said shortly after EIA's report. "The holiday effect was clearly counteracted by soaring cash prices that led storage optimizers to release this record amount of gas.
"The anticipation of this number drove prompt month natural gas prices far higher on the day, and the initial reaction was bullish to a much tighter print compared to last week," Bespoke said. "Yet we are already seeing early signs of a 'sell the news' event, with later contracts along the strip declining significantly off the print...strip weakness advertises caution above $3.02."
Total working gas in underground storage ended the week at 2,767 Bcf, versus 3,182 Bcf a year ago and five-year average inventories of 3,149 Bcf. The year-on-year storage deficit widened for the period from -192 Bcf to -415 Bcf, while the year-on-five-year deficit increased from -192 Bcf to -382 Bcf, EIA data show.
By region, the largest pull came from the South Central at -153 Bcf, including 78 Bcf withdrawn from salt and 76 Bcf withdrawn from nonsalt. The Midwest saw a 97 Bcf week/week withdrawal, while 76 Bcf was withdrawn from the East.