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Bulls Mulling Forecast Cold, Hefty Storage Draw; February Called 8 Cents Higher

February natural gas is set to open 8 cents higher Thursday morning at $3.31 as forecasts of cooler temperatures provide a springboard to lift prices again following Wednesday's meteoric gains. Overnight oil markets continued Wednesday's advance.

Forecasters are calling for a concerted cold pattern to develop in about a week. Commodity Weather Group in its Thursday morning outlook said, "A renewed cold regime continues to push forward on the forecasts, although there are some model disagreements on the evolution in the six-10 day period. The typically more skillful European ensemble is most aggressive on these trends vs. the American and Canadian versions with a stronger Midcontinent cold outbreak as early as days nine-10 now.

"We edged that part of the period colder this morning, but not as aggressively as the European ensemble yet. It shows a powerful ridge spike up the West Coast to displace the cold air fairly quickly into the U.S. The European ensemble model is also the coldest 11-15 day option -- even colder than the newly upgraded GFS [Global Forecast System] model -- with much below from the interior Northwest to the interior Northeast. For this period, we did go in this stronger direction as all models tend to agree on a powerful cold upper-level pattern with Alaska to Arctic ridging and a big cold trough over the Central to Eastern U.S.," said Matt Rogers, president of the firm.

The 10:30 a.m. EST release of storage data by the Energy Information Administration (EIA) will give traders and analysts a chance to hone their estimates of final season-ending inventories and determine how much gas will be in place when an estimated 5 Bcf/d of additional production has to be stored during the injection season.

Analysts at Raymond James see a well supplied market and anticipate a withdrawal somewhat less than the consensus in the 220 Bcf area. "Based on our assumptions, we expect the market to run 2.5 Bcf/d looser on a year/year basis for the week; our official forecast for this Thursday is for a withdrawal of 211 Bcf. If our forecast is right, the year-over-year storage surplus of 93 Bcf will decrease by 54 to a surplus of 39 Bcf."

Last year, the market was in the middle of a Polar Vortex and a record 268 Bcf was withdrawn, and the five-year pace is a 191 Bcf pull. For the week ended Jan. 9, ICAP Energy calculates a 223 Bcf decline, and analysts at IAF Advisors in Houston expect a 231 Bcf withdrawal. A Reuters survey of 24 traders and analysts revealed a sample mean of 224 Bcf with a range of 182 to 255 Bcf.

Tom Saal, vice president at INTL FC Stone in Miami, calls the market's move Wednesday "impressive" in spite of massive selling (14,126 February contracts) in the last two minutes of the close. "Historically, 200% weekly range extension is usually a max target within the same week. However, [it] does not preclude higher prices next week. There are plenty of higher-priced value areas to be tested," he said in a Thursday morning note to clients.

In overnight Globex trading February crude oil added $1.26 to $49.74/bbl and February RBOB gasoline rose 3 cents to $1.4060/gal.

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