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Cold Won't Go Away; March Called 4 Cents Higher

March natural gas is set to open 4 cents higher Thursday morning at $2.84 as traders plug in colder temperature patterns to their forecasts and mull the likelihood of a thinner ending storage inventory by the end of the heating season. Overnight oil markets gained.

Overnight weather forecasts for the end of the month turned still colder. WSI Corp. in its Thursday morning 11- to 15-day report said, "[Thursday's] 11-15 day period forecast is generally colder than the previous forecast, especially across the Plains, Midwest and Northeast. This is due to model trends and the day shift. Forecast confidence is considered near average as medium-range models are in reasonably good agreement with the stable and cold pattern. As usual, there are technical and timing differences.

"The forecast is pretty aggressive with the cold, so there may not be much more room for further downward revisions. The South and East Coast may run a bit warmer, as well as California. The Northwest and Rockies may run a bit colder."

The 10:30 a.m. EST release of inventory figures for the week ended Feb. 6 by the Energy Information Administration (EIA) is anticipated to show usage nowhere near the polar vortex-driven period of last year, but consensus estimates still show a draw below the five-year average. Last year, a humongous 234 Bcf was withdrawn, and the five-year average pace is a 178 Bcf pull.

Bentek Energy's flow model is relatively low in its estimate of a 156 Bcf withdrawal. The firm cites something of a disconnect between the cold weather of last week and its sample of storage facilities. "Below-normal temperatures during the week in the East increased withdrawals from storage compared to the previous week. However, this was offset partially by nearly no net storage activity in the West Region due to above-normal temperatures during the week.

"Even with the majority of the cold weather centered over the Northeast, facilities in the region, such as Dominion and TCO, failed to report their strongest withdrawals of the season, while fields in the Midwest increased withdrawal activity only marginally compared to the previous week and also kept sample activity lower compared to high-demand weeks this year.

"The sample activity for the week suggests risk toward a weaker withdrawal. However, withdrawals from facilities within Bentek's sample increased only marginally within the Producing Region, indicating only a modest uptick in demand within the region," the firm said.

Other estimates include IAF Advisors at a 166 Bcf estimate and ICAP Energy predicting a pull of 170 Bcf. A Reuters poll of 21 traders and analysts revealed an average 168 Bcf with a range of -149 Bcf to -181 Bcf.

In overnight Globex trading March crude oil rose $1.09 to $49.93/bbl and March RBOB gasoline added a penny to $1.5547/gal.

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