With winter storms pounding a number of U.S. regions on Wednesday, natural gas futures in quiet trading recorded their first gain in seven sessions. The January contract traded in a $7.100 to $7.265 range before settling at $7.185, up three pennies from Tuesday’s close.
Wednesday’s action continued to fortify the $7 price level as fairly significant support. Over the last three sessions, prompt-month natural gas has reached lows of $7.060 (Monday), $7.080 (Tuesday) and $7.100 (Wednesday). Whether the psychological support zone will be able to hold up during a winter that is expected to be warmer than normal remains to be seen.
Crude futures, which have been blazing a trail of lower prices over the last week and a half, dropped an additional 83 cents on Wednesday to $87.49/bbl. Much has been made of whether a relationship exists between crude and natural gas price directions. While some say that if crude futures drop below $80/bbl, natural gas futures would likely be pulled lower, others see no correlation whatsoever.
“The natural gas market remains on its own course, independent of crude oil, dominated by a combination of record high storage levels and a lack of forward heating demand,” said Tim Evans, an analyst with Citigroup in New York. “Wednesday’s 11-to 15-day outlook featuring above-normal temperatures for the central U.S. and normal elsewhere is certainly not going to help draw down the storage surplus. On the contrary, it will likely pad it further.”
The AccuWeather six- to 10-day forecast calls for above-normal temperatures across a broad swath of the central United States. South of a broad arc extending from southwest Texas to Chicago to Rhode Island is forecast to be above normal while in the West below-normal temperatures are forecast. North of an arc from Washington to northern Arizona to North Dakota is forecast to be below normal.
Market technicians see little hope for the bulls unless January natural gas futures can settle about 30 cents higher. “There is no case for a bottom without a close above the 0.236 retracement of the $8.712 to $7.038 decline up at the $7.435 level,” said Walter Zimmerman of United Energy. Spot futures need to hold support just below $7, and in the short term Zimmerman says the market needs to hold $6.920 to $6.950 support. Longer term he pegs $6.535 as the more critical level because it marks the 0.618 retracement of the entire $5.192 to $8.712 advance. On the upside Zimmerman puts resistance to further advances at $7.310 and $7.435.
Short-term traders see the market holding $7. “There is still a lot of short-covering in the market as we get to lower levels, and it looks like funds are taking some money off the table and booking some gains,” said a New York floor trader.
Turning attention to the Energy Information Administration’s natural gas storage report for the week ended Nov. 30, the industry appears to be looking for a withdrawal in the low 80s Bcf. A withdrawal of that magnitude would well exceed historical comparisons. During the similar week last year only 14 Bcf was removed from underground stores. The five-year average for the date is a 60 Bcf withdrawal.
A Reuters survey of 22 industry players is expecting an average draw of 81 Bcf, while Golden, CO-based Bentek Energy said its flow model is anticipating an 83 Bcf withdrawal, which would bring stocks 1.1% above the five-year high (last year) and 8.8% above the five-year average. The flow model sees the East region withdrawing 46 Bcf, the Producing region removing 26 Bcf and the West region pulling out 11 Bcf. According to the research and analysis firm, storage inventories nationwide decreased 2.2% from 96.8% to 94.6% during the week.
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