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Weather Trumps Expected Stout Storage Stats; April Called A Nickel Lower

April natural gas is set to open 5 cents lower Thursday morning at $2.81 as weather forecasts become more variable and traders await the release of key inventory data. Overnight oil markets fell.

Overnight weather models showed more variability along with indications of moderation in key population centers. "[Thursday] offers a recently relatively rare lower demand change thanks to warmer changes on the guidance consensus for next week in the East and South along with more variability showing up in the 11-15 day period," said Matt Rogers, president of Commodity Weather Group, in the firm's morning report. "Next week is still very tricky as the models struggle to navigate through various pieces of storm energy that translate across the U.S. Tight temperature gradients will be challenging between the South and North next week and our temperatures may continue to fluctuate.

"Cold air coverage is still the strongest, though, such that next week still runs colder than normal nationally. Otherwise, we see more pattern variability for the second week of March with many areas trending toward near-normal temperatures for the 11-15 day time period, but colder risks continue to loom larger than warmer ones, thanks to continued ridging near Alaska and even hints of new ridging around Greenland late in the 11-15 day."

Estimates of the 10:30 a.m. EST Energy Information Administration storage report include a Reuters poll of 23 industry cognoscenti showing an average 241 Bcf with a range of 230 Bcf to 257 Bcf. IAF Advisors calculates a pull of 238 Bcf, and ICAP Energy is looking for a decline of 234 Bcf. Last year, 117 Bcf was withdrawn, and the five-year average is for a 131 Bcf pull.

Bentek Energy calculates a 233 Bcf withdrawal utilizing its flow model, but it said even with the cold in the East and Midwest, withdrawals didn't surpass the levels of last year. "Residential and commercial demand increased nearly 20 Bcf/d from the previous week, which averaged more than 63.3 Bcf/d. The increased demand was centered in the East Region as historic cold blanketed the Northeast," the firm said. "The record low temps increased demand in the Northeast to its single-day record of more than 43 Bcf/d, which was a mark that was posted twice during the week.

"However, withdrawals failed to match the peak demand weeks from last winter, especially considering the West Region only withdrew single digits during the week. Even with the record demand levels in the Northeast, Dominion and TCO only matched their highest withdrawals of the year and failed to post larger withdrawals than peak-demand weeks last year."

Tom Saal, vice president at INTL FC Stone, is looking for a big move. In a Thursday morning note to clients he cited the Market Profile of the April contract show[ing] "a 'developed' normal (bell curve) distribution...the mode (most popular price) has traded horizontally in 56 '30-minute' time slots. Look for a major price movement from the mode price of $2.825."

In overnight Globex trading, April crude oil fell 86 cents to $50.13/bbl and April RBOB gasoline eased fractionally to $1.9079/gal.

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