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Traders Juggle Weather, Positions Before Holiday; January Called 2 Cents Lower

January natural gas is set to open 2 cents lower Wednesday morning at $4.38 as traders match forecasts of renewed cold with what is likely to be the first triple-digit withdrawal of the young heating season. Overnight oil markets slipped.

Estimates of the noon EST release of storage data are big -- really, really big. Ritterbusch and Associates forecasts a withdrawal of 145 Bcf, and ICAP Energy calculates a pull of 160 Bcf. A Reuters poll of 21 traders and analysts showed an average of 150 Bcf with a range of 124-168 Bcf.

Forecasts may have caught the markets off guard Tuesday. "A quick, but heavy, burst of rain and snow will occur today over the eastern U.S. coast with inconveniently timed snowfall of several inches for the Northeast," said Natgasweather.com in a Wednesday morning report.

"Colder than normal temperatures will follow to drive stronger than normal heating demand over the Midwest and much of the eastern U.S. Thanksgiving day and Black Friday. However, natgas demand will rapidly ease late this weekend and early next week as all but the extreme northern U.S. warms  Milder temperatures will only last around three to four days as additional chilly weather systems arrive with more seasonable conditions and periods of rain and snow late next week, which is likely faster than the markets were expecting.

"There could be a few colder weather system to follow if the Pacific jet fizzles or briefly shifts offshore around December 6-9th, which will need close watching in case they trend colder."

Analysts for the moment see the market trying to adjust to temperature forecasts ahead of the long holiday period.

"Price volatility remains the rule of the day in this market as virtually all of yesterday's losses were quickly erased in today's trade," said Jim Ritterbusch of Ritterbusch and Associates said Tuesday. "Some of this strength appeared related to a continued mix of short-term temperature forecasts with some suggesting less temperature moderation next week. But some gains also appeared to spin off of a strong December contract expiration that saw shorts on the defensive with much rolling of bearish positions forward into the first quarter 2015 part of the curve. Some of [Tuesday's] volatility may have also related to positioning ahead of [Wednesday's] weekly EIA release. Our expected large withdrawal of about 145 Bcf appears proximate to average street ideas thus far.

"But we will reiterate that any sharp deviations of more than 15 Bcf in either direction could see limited price response with the market heavily focused on month-end positioning ahead of a holiday that could bring some further adjustments in the short-term temperature views. [Tuesday's] price rally lifted January futures back up to around the middle of our projected short-term trading range of between about $4.05 and $4.60. Consequently, we will caution against either long or short positions at current levels as we will advise trading off of our projected parameters while looking for a test of the low side to begin establishing deferred bull spreads again."

In overnight Globex trading January crude oil fell 53 cents to $73.56/bbl and January RBOB gasoline dropped a penny to $2.0046/gal.

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