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Robust Storage Numbers On Tap; February Seen 2 Cents Higher

February natural gas is expected to open 2 cents higher Thursday morning at $2.14 as traders anticipate a government report showing the largest storage withdrawal of the season. Overnight oil markets weakened.

Forecasters are expecting robust cold air to slide through eastern markets followed by a period of moderation. It's after that when patterns become less well defined. "Overall, we continue to see enough cold Canadian air being tapped by U.S. weather systems to drive near or stronger than normal natgas demand for the next 10 days," said Natgasweather.com in a noon update Wednesday. "It's what happens after where the weather data keeps showing milder temperatures arriving and leading to quite bearish looking national eight-14 Day Outlook maps.

"It would be no surprise to have the weather data again delay the arrival of colder air, or more likely only bring several days of it before colder temperatures again return to the northern and eastern U.S. Simply put, the coming pattern through next week is fairly cold and snowy with strong winter storms, although, still not intimidating enough after as a milder break keeps showing up in the weather maps days 12-14, although continuously being delayed by an eastern U.S. cool bias."

The 10:30 a.m. EST Thursday release of storage figures by the Energy Information Administration is likely to show the strongest demand so far this season, with estimated draws approaching 200 Bcf. Last year 220 Bcf was withdrawn, and the five-year average is for a 177 Bcf decline. Problem is, little impact is likely in the five-year storage surplus. Supplies currently stand at 3,475 Bcf and are a whopping 474 Bcf above the five-year average.

IAF Advisors calculates a 191 Bcf pull, and ICAP Energy is expecting a withdrawal of 182 Bcf. A Reuters survey of 21 traders and analysts revealed a sample mean of -184 Bcf with a range of -172 to -191 Bcf.

Bentek Energy figures on a 189 Bcf pull and said, "Week-over-week, larger withdrawals are expected in the Midwest and South Central regions, while the Mountain Region is forecast to withdraw the same amount of gas, and smaller withdrawals are expected in the East and Pacific regions."

Bentek said there was one glitch in its figures in that "ANR posted an exceptionally large withdrawal of 4.5 Bcf on a single day. Representatives at ANR initially reported to Bentek that the large draw was posted in error and would be corrected." ANR, however, has not followed up, and the issue is still in play.

In overnight Globex trading the March crude oil fell 12 cents to $28.23/bbl and March RBOB gasoline dropped a penny to $1.0368/gal.

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