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Bears Get Reprieve Following Release of Storage Data

Natural gas futures worked lower after the release of government storage figures showing storage drawdowns to be somewhat less than trader expectations.

For the week ended Feb. 6, the Energy Information Administration (EIA) reported a decrease of 160 Bcf in its 10:30 a.m. EST release, about 8 Bcf below estimates. March futures fell to a low of $2.736 after the number was released and by 10:45 a.m. March was trading at $2.761, down 3.6 cents from Wednesday's settlement.

Prior to the release of the data, analysts were looking for a decrease of about 168 Bcf. IAF Advisors analysts calculated a 166 Bcf decline, but a Reuters survey of 21 industry observers revealed an average 168 Bcf with a range of 149 Bcf to 181 Bcf. Analysts at ICAP Energy were looking for a 170 Bcf pull, and Bentek Energy's flow model predicted a 156 Bcf withdrawal.

For the moment, the bears are in the driver's seat. "Traders are thinking that if they can force a close below $2.75, then you might be looking around the $2.50 level," said a New York floor trader. "Hope for the bears springs eternal, and let’s hope spring arrives soon. It's colder than a brass toilet seat in the Yukon!"

Analysts see a weakening tone to the supply demand balance. "The smaller than expected 160 Bcf draw was the third consecutive bearish miss, reinforcing the idea that the background supply-demand balance has weakened, most likely on increased supply," said Tim Evans of Citi Futures Perspective. "This will be a test of market sentiment and will possibly downgrade the concern about upcoming cold."

Inventories now stand at 2,268 Bcf and are 542 Bcf greater than last year and 11 Bcf below the five-year average. In the East Region, 113 Bcf was withdrawn, and the West Region saw inventories unchanged. Stocks in the Producing Region declined by 47 Bcf.

The Producing region salt cavern storage figure fell by 16 Bcf from the previous week to 231 Bcf, while the non-salt cavern figure dropped 31 Bcf to 585 Bcf.

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