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Traders See Bearish Storage Figures On Tap, Yet March Futures Called A Penny Higher

March natural gas is set to open a penny higher Thursday morning at $2.85, holding above technical support as traders await government storage figures. Overnight oil markets rose.

Weather forecasts overnight changed little with forecasters calling for a below normal six- to 10-day period and a warming trend in the 11- to 15-day horizon. Commodity Weather Group in its morning outlook said "Forecast estimates today are for a relatively small single-digit national demand loss and part of that is due to warmer-than-expected temperatures today on the East Coast as the current cold air mass underperforms especially on low temperatures despite clear skies, snow cover, and calming winds. Otherwise, colder than normal conditions still prevail in the big picture across the Midwest, South, and East for the upcoming 6-10 day with fairly good consistency, but some minor colder tweaks for the East Coast next week (with a more suppressed storm track assisting).

"The 11-15 day continues to progress warmer as the Alaskan ridge takes a time-out. The latest collection of ensembles suggest ridging starts to return to the Western Canada and Alaska area by the very end. There is always the caution that this could be too fast, and we took the slower route today, but either way, it would make for a fairly short-lived warmer period," said Matt Rogers, president of the firm.

The 10:30 a.m. EST release of inventory data by the Energy Information Administration should give traders a better idea of how much of an ending inventory will be in place at the end of March. Working gas stands at 2,637 Bcf currently and with 10 weeks remaining on the traditional withdrawal season slightly less than 100 Bcf would have to be pulled weekly to bring supplies under the arguably bearish ending inventory level of 1,700 Bcf.

All indications are that this week's figures for the week ended Jan. 23 will cause an increased surplus relative to a year ago and diminish the year-on-five-year deficit. Last year a stout 219 Bcf was withdrawn and the five-year pace stands at 168 Bcf. IAF Advisors calculates a pull of 108 Bcf and ICAP Energy is looking for a withdrawal of 114 Bcf. A Reuters poll of 21 industry traders and analysts resulted in a sample mean of a 113 Bcf draw with a range of 97 Bcf to 144 Bcf.

Industry consultant Bentek Energy utilizing its flow model calculated a 107 Bcf withdrawal on the basis of more moderate temperatures. In a report it said that "Fundamentals converged with sample storage activity, with many fields suggesting a much stronger withdrawal than the demand estimates would indicate. Furthermore, the holiday during the week adds some additional risk to this week's forecast. Demand fell significantly from the previous week to average just 88.4 Bcf/d, while demand over the previous two weeks averaged well above 100 Bcf/d. Above normal temperatures led to the decline in demand as weather moderated across the country."

 In overnight Globex trading March crude oil added 7 cents to $44.52/bbl and March RBOB gasoline gained a penny to $1.3909/gallon.

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