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Thin Storage Pull Has Bears On The Hunt

Natural gas futures tumbled following the release of government storage figures showing a lower withdrawal than what the market was expecting.

For the week ended Dec. 19, the Energy Information Administration (EIA) reported a decrease of 49 Bcf in its 12:00 p.m. EST release, about 11 Bcf less than estimates. January sank to a low of $3.003 after the number was released, and by 12:15 a.m. January was trading at $3.010, down 16.1 cents from Tuesday's settlement. Up until the release of the number, the market held some degree of firmness as January was trading at $3.07.

Prior to the release of the data, analysts were looking for a decrease of about 60 Bcf. An analysis by ICAP Energy revealed a pull of 60 Bcf, and IAF Advisors analysts calculated a 58 Bcf decline. A Reuters survey of 20 traders and analysts revealed an average 64 Bcf with a range of -55 Bcf to -73 Bcf.

"Traders were looking for a number about in the mid-60 Bcf range, and we are right at the cusp of the $3 mark. I think it might hold, but if it settles under $3 we are in deep trouble," said a New York floor trader. "With the thinness of the market, this could easily go through $3. There isn't any volume out here. There are only 100 lots between $3.004 and $3.008. We used to be in a $3.50 to $4 trading range, and now its $3 to $3.50."

Citi Futures analyst Tim Evans called the report "bearish" when compared to industry estimates and historical data.

"This was a clearly bearish report, with the 49 bcf net withdrawal well below the consensus expectation," Evans said. "The report doesn’t provide specifics on changes in supply or demand, but with the population weighted degree days very similar to the prior week, we’d guess this implies a step up in natural gas production, with bearish implications for the weeks and months ahead."

Inventories now stand at 3,246 Bcf and are 150 Bcf greater than last year and 169 Bcf below the five-year average. In the East Region, 36 Bcf was withdrawn and the West Region saw inventories decrease 10 Bcf. Stocks in the Producing Region fell by 3 Bcf.

The Producing region salt cavern storage figure added 2 Bcf from the previous week to 327 Bcf, while the non-salt cavern figure fell by 5 Bcf to 769 Bcf.

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