Even as the front-month futures contract recorded a third consecutive day of gains on Wednesday, market watchers were under no illusion that the trend would gain any sort of real momentum to pull prices up from their six-and-a-half-year low. The May contract closed Wednesday's regular session at $3.693, up four-tenths of a penny.
After pushing lower in overnight trade, the May contract put in a low of $3.620 in morning trade and notched the day's high of $3.746 in the afternoon before coming to a close. Over the first three days of the week the prompt-month contract has fought and scrapped higher, recording a total gain of only 8.3 cents.
"Sure, we've linked a few 'up days' together, but I don't know anyone ready to go on a buying frenzy based off that," said a Southeast broker. "There really are not any bullish fundamentals to grab a hold of at this minute. The rig count is way down, which is constructive, but we have yet to see production begin to fall off as a result."
The broker said any real lasting turnaround in gas prices might just wait for an economic recovery. "The economy is obviously factoring in heavily on these depressed prices," he said. "With plenty of gas in storage and not much demand to speak of, a lasting rally in gas prices might be hard to come by. If we see a huge recovery in the economy sometime later this year, then natural gas prices will surely tick higher with the rest of the energy commodities."
Noting that natural gas futures on Wednesday once again gave back the prior day's gains in early trading, Citi Futures Perspective analyst Tim Evans said it almost appears as if a daily trading pattern is emerging. Outside of that, he sees futures stuck in a trading range.
"Stepping back a bit from the hourly swings, it just looks as though the market has settled into a low-level trading range," he said. "Fundamentally, we've yet to see evidence that cuts in drilling activity have begun to translate into falling production...and we note that the 11- to 15-day temperature outlook lacks the late-season heating demand that would help offset weak industrial offtake. Overall, we think this leaves the downside open, at least for now."
Turning attention to Thursday's 10:30 a.m. EDT release of the natural gas storage report for the week ended April 10, industry injection estimates are ranging fairly widely between 15 Bcf and 30 Bcf. Evans is looking for a 16 Bcf build, but Bentek Energy said its flow model is indicating an injection of 29 Bcf, which would bring stocks 2.7% below the five-year high and 23% above the five-year average. The research and analysis firm's flow model expects a 15 Bcf injection in the East region, while the Producing and West regions chip in 9 Bcf and 5 Bcf, respectively.
"Inventory levels across the country are at or near historical five-year maximums with most of the surplus in the West and Producing regions," Bentek noted.
The number revealed Thursday morning will be compared to last year's 21 Bcf build and the five-year average injection of 20 Bcf.
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