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Cold On The Way? January Seen 2 Cents Higher

January natural gas is set to open 2 cents higher Thursday morning at $3.73 as traders brace for what looks to be the first in a series of lean storage withdrawal reports, yet forecasters see a hint of cold by the end of the month. Overnight oil markets eased.

Forecasters studying their weather models see signs that cold air may be on the way, but it won't be for at least another two weeks. "The modeling overnight maintained relative consistency on both the warm-dominated pattern for most of the next two weeks and the attempt to switch back to a colder pattern at the end of the 11-15 day," said Matt Rogers, president of Commodity Weather Group, in the firm's morning outlook. "All model guidance this morning [Thursday] has some sort of ridging building, either from the gatekeeper position along the U.S. West Coast toward the Yukon (European) or right up into Alaska, too (American/Canadian) by the Christmas holiday.

"These trends started [Wednesday] during the 12z cycle except for the Canadian, which has been developing this new pattern for a number of runs now. Because the change is still at the very end of the 11-15 on most guidance (Canadian faster), we must remain somewhat cautious yet. It will take a little time to reconnect the cold air and replenish the supply, so the initial cooling advances in this change may be on the weaker side at first and may focus more toward the Rockies and Plains at the start."

Up until then, it looks as though significant storage draws may be unlikely. Analysts are thinking that with the warm patterns in play for the next two weeks, storage balances could shift dramatically with the year-on-year storage deficit getting completely wiped out.

Thursday's 10:30 a.m. EST Energy Information Administration (EIA) storage report should give traders and analysts an idea just how effective the combination of increased production and mild weather has been in enhancing short-term supplies. Last year, 92 Bcf was withdrawn, and the five-year pace comes in at 72 Bcf. Analysts at IAF Advisors compute a 40 Bcf withdrawal for the week ended Dec. 5, and Genscape is looking for a 42 Bcf pull. A Reuters survey of 23 traders and analysts revealed a sample mean of 45 Bcf with a range of -23 Bcf to -61 Bcf.

Bentek Energy's flow model sees a 41 Bcf draw. "Strong growth in production during the week limited sample withdrawals despite an uptick in total U.S. population-weighted [heating requirements] by 14 degree days within the East Region," Bentek said, adding that increasing production is likely to lessen storage requirements for the next few weeks.

In overnight Globex trading, January crude oil dropped 40 cents to $60.54/bbl and January RBOB gasoline fell fractionally to $1.6398/gal.

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