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Anticipated Storage Report Doozy Vaults December Natural Gas Futures Higher on Expiration

With traders hustling and bustling to get business done before heading to their Thanksgiving holiday destinations, physical natural gas traded on Tuesday for Wednesday through Sunday delivery was a mixed bag. Northeast and Mid-Atlantic points were up on Wednesday's Nor'easter; West Coast locations were down on slumping demand, and everything else fell on either side of unchanged.

December natural gas futures went off of the board on Tuesday on a bullish note, gaining 13.1 cents to $4.282. Similarly, the now-prompt January contract added 9.9 cents to $4.403. The bump in futures values was widely attributed to Wednesday's special Energy Information Administration natural gas storage report, which is expected to show a much larger withdrawal than historical norms for the week ending Nov. 21.

Physical gas traders at the Algonquin Citygates finally perked up to the classic winter Nor'easter set to impact much of the Northeast on Wednesday. After dropping more than a nickel on Monday for Tuesday delivery, the index streaked $2.84 higher to average $6.64 for Wednesday through Sunday delivery.

Some other key Northeast and Appalachian points also saw significant increases, but not on the scale of Algonquin. Transco Zone 6 NY jumped 76 cents to average $4.12, and Texas Eastern M-3 tacked on 41 cents to average $3.75 for the holiday weekend delivery period. In the heart of the Marcellus Shale, Tennessee Zone 4 Marcellus added 14 cents to $2.48.

Outside of the areas expected to be hit by the Nor'easter, red ink ruled the day's trading session. In the Midwest, Chicago Citygates dropped 7 cents to $4.47, and Alliance came off 6 cents to $4.48, while in the West, PG&E Citygate averaged $4.47, down 4 cents, and SoCal Border Average was $4.27, down 3 cents.

Traders and analysts alike expect Wednesday's storage report to blow away all historical comparisons for the week, thanks to the chilly early-season polar vortex that blasted the eastern half of the country last week. Citi Futures Perspective analyst Tim Evans is expecting a 131 Bcf net withdrawal, which would be well above both the date-adjusted 18 Bcf decline for the same week a year ago and the 6 Bcf withdrawal five-year average for the week.

"The market may still get a lift from Wednesday's DOE storage report for the week ended Nov. 21, with consensus expectations looking like they may run somewhat above our own model's estimate of 131 Bcf and miles above the 6 Bcf five-year average," Evans said. "However, the temperatures over the next two weeks continue to trend warmer, suggesting there may be plenty of selling into any rally."

Reuters reported Tuesday that a survey of 21 traders and analysts produced a 124-168 Bcf withdrawal range with consensus expectation of a 150 Bcf pull. If a 150 Bcf withdrawal is realized, it would be the largest withdrawal for the week in more than a decade.

Teri Viswanath, director of Commodity Strategy for natural gas at BNP Paribas, said that Wednesday's noon eastern EIA stock release "will likely prove an outlier" when compared to the string of less exciting storage withdrawals in the weeks to follow. "We anticipate that analyst estimates for last week's storage withdrawal will reflect a new reference week high for a stock draw in the neighborhood of 148 to 154 Bcf; however, the next two releases will likely prove much more subdued, with stock draws more in line with the five-year lows of 35 to 40 Bcf."

Taking a peek at the current weather forecasts, Viswanath said Tuesday's forecast shows fairly similar agreement overall to Monday, with widespread warmth anticipated across the eastern U.S. in early December. "While there may be a weak cold front that clips the northern Midwest and Northeast at some point next week, this development appears to be only a brief interruption in the warm pattern," she said. "Consequently, the six-10 and 11-15 day forecasts continue to reflect an above-normal temperatures across much of the U.S., with cold air held in check at the Canadian border due to a developing South-Central ridge."

Viswanath said the lack of cold weather in the forecasts has sidelined buyers for the most part this week, with prices retreating back in the vicinity of the calendar-month lows. "Last month we warned that the make-or-break moment for pre-winter rallies tends to occur ahead of the Thanksgiving holiday," she said. "Without a second act to last week's polar outbreak, this month's rally failed to break above $4.50. The question remains as to whether the market is willing to pressure prices much lower at this early junction in the season. We suspect that such reserve will likely disappear next month, should the forecasts for January and February trend warmer. Such development, in our opinion, might open the floor below $4 by mid-season."

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