March natural gas was set to open Thursday about 3 cents higher at around $2.734, with the market looking ahead to the 10:30 a.m. EDT release of weekly government storage data expected to show a bearish pull versus recent seasonal norms.
Predictions for Thursday’s Energy Information Administration (EIA) storage report have been pointing to a withdrawal in the triple digits but looser versus year-ago and five-year average levels.
A Reuters survey of traders and analysts on average estimated a withdrawal of 116 Bcf for the week ending Feb. 2, versus a year-ago withdrawal of 142 Bcf and a five-year average pull of 151 Bcf. Survey responses ranged from -107 Bcf to -141 Bcf.
Kyle Cooper of ION Energy estimated a 118 Bcf withdrawal. PointLogic Energy in a note Monday estimated a 116 Bcf withdrawal for the period. Stephen Smith Energy Associates in a revised estimate Tuesday predicted a withdrawal of 121 Bcf.
Intercontinental Exchange storage futures settled Wednesday at -118 Bcf for the period.
“There’s a general view that supplies are a little tighter than the historical average but that given where we are on the calendar and our ability to produce, nobody is terribly worried,” Powerhouse Vice President David Thompson told NGI Wednesday.
“...I think the market’s basically saying we understand what we have in shale. If it were a polar vortex in November” then there might be concerns about how to move gas to demand centers for the duration of winter. “But approaching mid-February to March, there’s just not that much of a supply threat.”
NatGasWeather.com told clients Thursday that based on warmer than normal temperatures during the storage period for most of the country outside of the north-central United States, “our algorithm sees it slightly bullish this week versus surveys and near -119 Bcf.”
As for the most recent guidance, “the overnight weather data was mixed, with the Global Forecast System flipping back milder, while the European model had a few days milder and a few days colder,” NatGasWeather said. “Bigger picture, the data remains a little too mild across the South and the East as high pressure becomes quite strong and stubborn, even as numerous weather systems track across the northern U.S.”
From a technical perspective, ICAP Technical Analysis analyst Brian LaRose said following Wednesday’s close that if the bulls can keep prices from falling below $2.688-2.640 then they “still have a case for a run at the $3.417-3.491 neighborhood.
“Hold $2.521 and the best the bulls can hope for is a short-lived correction of the move down off the $3.259 high,” LaRose said. “Fail to hold support and the door will be open for a dump to $2.189-2.121 before the March contract rolls off the board. Bottom line, if the bulls are going to make something happen they must act fast.”
March crude oil was set to open about 25 cents lower at around $61.55/bbl, while March RBOB gasoline was up fractionally at around $1.7702/gal.