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April Natural Gas Called Higher as Market Awaits EIA Storage

April natural gas was set to open Thursday about a penny higher at around $2.740, with the market turning its attention to Energy Information Administration (EIA) storage data set to be released today, which is expected to show a withdrawal approaching triple digits.

Estimates for Thursday’s 10:30 a.m. EDT release have the EIA reporting a natural gas storage withdrawal in line with the five-year average.

A Reuters survey of traders and analysts showed the market on average expecting the Energy Information Administration (EIA) to report a 96 Bcf withdrawal for the week ending March 9, with responses ranging from -86 Bcf to -107 Bcf. Last year 55 Bcf was withdrawn during the period, while the five-year average is a 97 Bcf withdrawal.

EIA reported a 57 Bcf withdrawal for the week ending March 2.

OPIS analysts on Tuesday predicted a 96 Bcf withdrawal for the period, citing higher demand from the recent winter weather in the Northeast. Stephen Smith Energy Associates is forecasting a 99 Bcf draw, versus a seasonally normal draw of 12 Bcf based on 2006-2010 norms. Kyle Cooper of IAF Advisors called for a 101 Bcf withdrawal. Intercontinental Exchange EIA storage futures settled at -100 Bcf Wednesday for the upcoming report.

Genscape Inc. on Wednesday estimated a 99 Bcf withdrawal. “Compared to degree days and normal seasonality, a 99 Bcf withdrawal would appear tight by -4.5 Bcf/d versus the five-year average,” according to the firm.

Tudor, Pickering, Holt & Co. (TPH) analysts noted that estimates have Thursday’s report falling in line with five-year norms, but “despite wintry weather in the northeast, heating degree days (HDD) are coming in well below five-year norms, indicating a weather-adjusted market undersupply of more than 3 Bcf/d.

“While this level of undersupply could be taken as a bullish indicator, the commodity hasn’t responded in kind, and Henry Hub has seen a precipitous decline (over 25%) since late January,” TPH analysts said.

“Though demand levels from cold weather patterns could bolster price support for the balance of March, we see supply beginning to outpace demand mid-year” based on an estimated 700 MMcf/d of incremental associated gas production out of the Permian Basin, additional pipeline takeaway out of the Northeast coming online in the second quarter and “warmer weather reducing production constraints in the Rockies and the Northeast.”

Meanwhile, NatGasWeather.com noted “a mix between milder and colder overnight trends” in the weather data, “with March 24-26 sticking out as being much too mild across the southern and eastern U.S., but then looking a bit more favorable for cold to return across the Midwest and Northeast after.

“To our view, $2.71-2.72 remains an important level” for the April contract “as this was where prices broke out from last week, and a level that has been tested twice this week only to bounce,” the firm said. “We expect $2.72 will again be important Thursday and needs to hold after the EIA storage report for bulls to maintain control after what has so far been a less than impressive breakout.”

April crude oil was set to open Thursday about 40 cents higher at around $61.36/bbl, while April RBOB gasoline was down fractionally at around $1.9224/gal.

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