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Bears Double Up on Storage Injection, Reclassification; Futures Break Below $3

Natural gas futures bears were large and in charge Thursday morning after digesting a larger-than-expected storage injection report, which appeared even larger thanks to a reclassification from working gas to base gas.

The Energy Information Administration (EIA) reported that 81 Bcf was injected into underground stores for the week ending May 26, but the reclassification pushed the implied flow for the week to 85 Bcf. The double dose of bearish news pushed front-month natural gas futures to probe psychological support at $3.

In the minutes leading up to the 10:30 a.m. EDT release of inventory data on Thursday, the July contract was hovering around $3.070, which is near where it finished Wednesday’s regular session. In the minutes that immediately followed the report, the prompt-month contract plunged and notched a $2.994 low just before 11 a.m. EDT as the 81 Bcf injection, as well as the implied 85 Bcf build, were both bearish compared to industry expectations.

As of 11 a.m. EDT, July futures were trading at $3.003, down 6.8 cents from Wednesday’s regular session close.

Despite the bearish surprise, some analysts still see things balancing out by fall.

“We continue to see the storage glut being drawn down through the summer months, with a Nov. 1 storage estimate of 3.8 Tcf,” wrote Jefferies LLC Analysts Zach Parham and Michael Hsu, who added that they remain bullish on natural gas prices.

“Despite our recent reduction in our 2018 gas price forecast (to $3.30, from $3.50), we remain bullish on natural gas on a tighter supply/demand balance (excluding weather), with a $3.50/MMBtu LT price forecast.”

Wells Fargo Securities LLC analysts deemed the report “slightly bearish” but said the market is still undersupplied.

“The reported figure was 4 Bcf above consensus but 1 Bcf below last year and 17 Bcf below the five-year average of 98 Bcf,” the analysts said in a note Thursday afternoon. “This marks the third week in a row that storage has come in above consensus estimates, missing by an average of 5 Bcf per week. But despite that bearish sign, based on our storage model this data point continues to indicate that the natural gas markets are running more than 2 Bcf/d undersupplied, and our analysis shows that this state of undersupply will likely persist throughout the summer.”

According to EIA, reclassifications from working gas to base gas resulted in decreased working gas stocks of approximately 4 Bcf in the Mountain region for the week ending May 26. As a result, the implied flow for the week is an increase of 85 Bcf to working gas stocks.

Heading into the report, most consensus industry estimates were for a build in the 66 to 78 Bcf range. A Bloomberg survey predicted an injection ranging from 66 to 78 Bcf with a median build of 69 Bcf for the week ended May 26. IAF Advisors called for a 73 Bcf injection, while Stephen Smith Energy Associates revised upward its weekly gas outlook estimate to call for a 79 Bcf build.

A Reuters survey called for an injection ranging from 73 to 86 Bcf with an expectation that 78 Bcf would be injected.

Last year’s injection for the corresponding week was 80 Bcf, while the five-year average build stands at 97 Bcf.

As of May 26, working gas in storage stood at 2,525 Bcf, according to EIA estimates, which is 370 Bcf less than last year at this time and 225 Bcf above the five-year average of 2,300 Bcf.

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