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Natural Gas Bulls Still in Control; February Called Higher

February natural gas was set to open Wednesday about 7 cents higher at around $3.516, with bulls asserting themselves as weather models come into agreement on a return of Arctic cold early next month.

The potential for another round of elevated heating demand arriving as storage inventories sit at a deficit to year-ago and five-year-average levels helped rally the prompt month high enough on Tuesday to trigger CME Group's daily price fluctuation limit "circuit breaker."  February gained more than 30 cents from Monday’s settle on Tuesday afternoon, leading CME to expand the limit to 60 cents day/day, according to CME spokesman Chris Grams.

"The overnight data was...colder trending for the first several days of February,” said NatGasWeather.com. Frigid Arctic air is expected to sweep “across the central and northern U.S. and into the East,” but it is expected to be “a touch milder Feb. 5-8 due to a brief break between Arctic blasts…” The second blast is “slightly further west compared to previous runs, but still impressive.

"Now that the Global Forecast System model has trended colder since Tuesday, all models are fairly well aligned on the coming cold pattern as another round of very strong heating demand is expected to push deficits in supplies versus the five-year average to well over -500 Bcf by mid-February."

Radiant Solutions noted colder changes to both its six- to 10-day and 11-15 day outlooks Tuesday.

In the 11-15 day, "models show more definitive cross polar/Arctic flow associated with stronger ridging through Alaska" resulting in "temperatures which fall into the much to strongly below normal categories in the Midwest, and high pressure through the East has belows there as well early on.

"However, storminess in the East limits cold air durability, and the forecast averages the period closer to normal there. Confidence remains moderate overall."

Thursday's Energy Information Administration (EIA) storage report is setting up to deliver another large withdrawal, according to estimates.

Stephen Smith Energy Associates, in its latest Weekly Gas Outlook, was calling for a 268 Bcf pull for the week ending Jan. 19, versus a seasonally normal withdrawal of 174 Bcf based on 2006-2010 norms. PointLogic Energy estimated a withdrawal of 272 Bcf for the period, citing an uptick in demand in the South Central region during the period.

From a technical perspective, "after testing and failing a few times in previous sessions to close above the $3.270 area, February natural gas was able to take that level out and close above it Tuesday," said analysts with Rafferty Commodities Group. "The market also broke out above the major resistance levels we had targeted at $3.310-3.446-3.476...

Tuesday’s “fireworks to the upside rocketed above a downward sloping line on the monthly charts,” said the Rafferty team. “There are still several trading sessions left in the month, but we remain bullish."

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