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Expected 'Epic' NatGas Storage Draw Fails to Secure $3-Plus February Close

Switching roles from Tuesday's trade when Northeastern physical natural gas prices climbed while the rest of the country sank, much of the nation's pricing points Wednesday for Thursday delivery saw small upticks, while prices in the East and Northeast declined -- all while a winter storm moved up the eastern seaboard.

Sticking with the opposites of Tuesday’s theme, the February natural gas contract on Wednesday staged a partial rebound from Tuesday's nearly 30-cent drubbing. The front-month contract punched north of $3.00 in early trading on expectations of a larger than normal storage withdrawal report Thursday, but bulls were unable to maintain momentum, as the February contract ultimately closed out the day's regular session at $2.974, up 14.3 cents from Tuesday's finish. The March contract added 12 cents to close at $2.940

Between the gains and losses across the country, NGI’s National Spot Gas Average came out nearly unchanged at $2.94, down a penny. With moderating temperatures expected to follow behind Wednesday's storm in the Northeast, next-day gas prices eased for much of the region. Algonquin Citygates took one of the larger plunges of actively traded points, shaving $1.11 from Tuesday to average $7.75. Transco Zone 6 non-NY slipped 22 cents to $3.11. However, Marcellus points saw some firming Wednesday. Tennessee Zone 4 Marcellus jumped 9 cents to average $1.15, while Transco-Leidy Line increased 11 cents to $1.15.

The Henry Hub added 2 cents to average $2.94, and Katy was up a penny at $2.85. In the West, PG&E Citygate added a penny to average $3.19, and Socal Citygate picked up 2 cents to $3.05.

Natgasweather.com noted Wednesday afternoon that while natural gas prices were "up sharply early in the session," they backed off a bit in the afternoon.

"Fresh weather data continues to stream in and it continues to show plenty of weather systems with seasonal cold blasts impacting the U.S. over the next week, with frigid Arctic temperatures remaining bottled up over Canada," Natgasweather.com said. "A developing weather system over the southern Plains, Texas and the Southeast will bring heavy rains ahead of the cold front the next few days, with some snowfall behind it.

“A new weather system will track into the Midwest and East late this weekend with another round of rain, snow, and slightly cooler than normal temperatures. It will be late next week when very cold Canadian air will begin pushing right against the U.S. border, while providing glancing blows of frigid temperatures to the upper Great Lakes and Northeast, especially around Jan. 30 - Feb. 1."

Despite this frigid burst, Natgasweather.com said cold air is still expected to struggle to push southward, keeping much of the country quite seasonable by mid-winter standards.

Taking a closer look at the natural gas futures action on Wednesday, Elaine Levin, president of energy brokerage Powerhouse in Washington, DC, said weather forecasters have not been helping to pick a direction recently.

"I keep getting conflicting stories on the weather forecasts...'warmer than normal,' no, wait a second, 'colder than normal.' We've got the floor to this market in place around $2.800, which we keep chipping away at. In order to break below that, I think we're really going to need a much warmer-than-normal temperature forecast or a disappointing storage withdrawal. Now, we have that gap that was established back on Dec. 19, and it could be a measuring gap. Getting through that would bring us back down around $2.00.

"I think it is clear the warmer surprises seem to be worth more on the downside than the recoveries on potential cold," Levin told NGI. "The later we get into the season, the harder it is going to be to make up those degree days."

Turning attention to Thursday morning's natural gas storage report for the week ending Jan. 16, traders and analysts alike are expecting a withdrawal well above historical norms, but a little less than the previous week's 236 Bcf pull. Citi Futures Perspective analyst Tim Evans expects a 230 Bcf withdrawal to be revealed on Thursday, which would be well above both the date-adjusted 133 Bcf pull from the same week a year ago, as well as the week's five-year average draw of 175 Bcf.

A Reuters survey of 24 industry veterans produced a 193-250 Bcf withdrawal range with an average expectation of a 227 Bcf pull.

Levin noted that Wednesday's nearly 15-cent rally in  February futures, which was directly attributed to the expectations of a massive storage withdrawal, was also interesting for another reason. "Is a 15-cent rally really the reaction we would expect considering the withdrawal is expected to be of epic proportions?"

As for the upside, Levin noted that if February were able to break above $3.000, $3.350 would be the next target, but she's not holding her breath. "Much above $3.000, I think there are still people willing to come in and sell this thing."

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