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Traders Expect Soft Storage Stats; March Futures Seen A Penny Lower

March natural gas is expected to open a penny lower Thursday morning at $2.65 as traders anticipate the release of government inventory figures expected to show usage well below historical levels. Overnight oil markets rose.

Market technicians versed in Elliott Wave and retracement analysis see the natural gas market headed lower, and in some cases below $2. "[It] still very much looks like we need lower lows to complete a five-wave pattern off the $3.352 high," said Brian LaRose, a market technician with United ICAP. "Two possibilities in this scenario, a diagonal fifth wave or a fifth wave extension. Peg $2.538-2.386 as the maximum implied downside target for a diagonal fifth wave. If natgas cannot carve out a bottom from this zone, a fifth wave extension should be expected. That would mean a test of the $1.902 low."

The 10:30 a.m. EST release of inventory data by the Energy Information Administration (EIA) should give traders a clearer idea of just how full the overall supply situation is likely to be once the traditional withdrawal season ends March 31.

However if last week's report is any indication, the data is likely to raise as many questions as it answers. Last week the EIA announced a withdrawal from storage of just 94 Bcf, about 20 Bcf less than market expectations, and prices fell hard. At the close, the newly minted spot March futures contract took a 12.3-cent drubbing to finish at $2.719, and April was lower by 11.5 cents to $2.715.

This week's withdrawal estimates are about in line with last week's. Last year at this time 259 Bcf was withdrawn, and the five-year average stands at 165 Bcf. IAF Advisors forecasts a pull of 111 Bcf, and ICAP Energy is looking for a decline of 119 Bcf. A Reuters survey of 21 traders and analysts revealed an average 122 Bcf with a range of 104 Bcf to 141 Bcf.

Bentek Energy's flow model forecasts a withdrawal of 112 Bcf. "Both production and demand edged higher during the week, with residential/commercial and power burn demand gaining 1.0 Bcf/d and 2.3 Bcf/d, respectively," Bentek said. "This was offset by slight gains in production, which continued to recover from freeze-offs and posted its highest weekly average for 2015 at 72.4 Bcf/d. The majority of the cold during the week was centered in the Northeast, with temperatures moderating significantly in the West and only falling slightly in the Producing Region."

WSI Corp. in its morning forecast sees little change in intermediate weather. "The latest 11-15 day period forecast is comparable to the past forecast. If anything, it's not quite as cold across parts of the East and a bit cooler across the West. Forecast confidence is average as medium-range models are in better agreement during the medium-range periods when compared to past days.

"There is a slight upside risk across the southern U.S., but a risk to the colder side across the Rockies into the north-central U.S. as there may be some retrogression of the pattern."

In overnight Globex trading March crude oil gained $1.02 to $49.47/bbl and March RBOB gasoline added 2 cents to $1.5021/gal.

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