April natural gas is expected to open 4 cents lower Thursday morning at $2.88 as estimates of near-term heating requirements lessened and traders prepare for what may be an early end to the traditional storage withdrawal season. Overnight oil markets fell.
Overnight, near-term weather forecasts moderated and estimates of heating requirements were also tempered. WSI Corp. in its Thursday morning six-to 10-day outlook said Thursday's "forecast is warmer than the previous forecast across much of the nation due to the day shift and model trends. As a result, period GWHDDs are down 1.7 to near 82.8 for the CONUS. Forecast confidence is about average today as medium-range models are in reasonably good agreement with the timing and progression of the large-scale pattern. As usual, there are timing and technical differences late in the period.
"There are minor risks in either direction given the model spread. There is a slight upside risk across the southern and eastern U.S. around the middle of next week, but the risk is to the colder side during the end of the period."
Traders will also factor in the 10:30 a.m. EDT release of storage data by the Energy Information Administration. Estimates are down sharply from last week's report of a 198 Bcf withdrawal at about 50 Bcf and a sharp shift in weather during the week has some forecasters saying there is more risk than normal to the forecasts.
Last year, 69 Bcf was withdrawn, and the five-year pace stands at 45 Bcf. For the week ended March 13, United ICAP estimates a pull of 52 Bcf, and a Reuters survey of 23 traders and analysts revealed an average 48 Bcf with a range of 30 Bcf to 60 Bcf. Bentek Energy's flow model estimates a withdrawal of 55 Bcf, but the firm cautioned that "temperatures moderated substantially from the previous week, pushing demand more than 20 Bcf/d lower week over week. However, withdrawal activity remained elevated during the first part of the storage week, and lingering cold from the entirety of February likely kept demand elevated, adding some additional risk to this week's forecast."
Early estimates of the storage report for March 20 range from a draw of 21 Bcf to a build of 6 Bcf, according to Reuters.
"The dramatic change in temperatures during the middle of the storage week adds additional risk to this week's forecast," Bentek said. "The majority of the fields within Bentek's sample of salt dome facilities flipped from withdrawals at the beginning of the storage week to injections by the end of the storage week. This adds additional risk to this week's forecast for the Producing Region as it is unclear if or when other fields outside Bentek's sample also flipped to net injections or if they continued to withdraw."
In overnight Globex trading April crude oil fell $1.78 to $42.88/bbl and April RBOB gasoline dropped 3 cents to $1.7661/gal.