January natural gas was set to open about 4 cents lower at around $2.595 Thursday, approaching the lows set last week even amid calls for the Energy Information Administration (EIA) to report a robust withdrawal in its 10:30 a.m. EDT storage inventory report.
The bulls wouldn't need to look hard to find some heating demand in the forecast.
NatGasWeather.com said in a Thursday morning note to clients that "overall, most of the weather data continues to advertise an impressively cold pattern from late this week onward, just with details regarding exactly how much Arctic air will get tapped by U.S. weather systems, and then just how far south it will advance. Regardless, strong demand and much larger than normal draws on supplies versus the five-year average are still expected in the weeks ahead."
This week, the market was expecting EIA to report a withdrawal much larger than last week and higher than the five-year average.
A Reuters survey of traders and analysts on average predicted a 170 Bcf draw for the week ended Dec. 15. That's versus a 200 Bcf draw in the year-ago period and a five-year average pull of 125 Bcf. Responses ranged from -107 Bcf to -186 Bcf.
Stephen Smith Energy Associates was calling for a 175 Bcf draw from U.S. gas stocks for the week ended Dec. 15, based on 16 total degree days more than normal for the period. That's versus a seasonally normal draw of 145 Bcf (based on 2006-2010 norms), the firm said.
PointLogic Energy estimated that EIA would report a 172 Bcf draw for the period. Kyle Cooper of IAF Advisors was looking for a withdrawal of 176 Bcf, while Price Futures Group was calling for a pull of 155 Bcf.
"With Thursday being the first official day of winter and very strong demand to come, one would think this would have been enough to help support prices," NatGasWeather said. "Clearly that hasn't been the case, with record production taking the blame for recent selling and where the winter strip is now cheaper than the summer strip. Like most weeks, the after-EIA report trade should be quite interesting, especially considering the markets will soon be heading for the long Christmas weekend break."
From a technical perspective, ICAP Technical Analysis analyst Brian LaRose noted following Wednesday's close that "a Friday settlement beneath the $2.812 level would represent the first weekly close beneath the 100 week simple moving average (SMA) since August 2016.
"The significance of this is that it has been the 100 week SMA that has consistently provided support over the past year and a half," LaRose said. "In other words, the $2.553-2.521 area may not stand much of a chance of stopping the slide. I see airspace down to $2.321, then $2.134-2.121 in this case."
February crude oil was set to open about 30 cents lower at around $57.79/bbl Thursday, while January RBOB Gasoline was down fractionally at around $1.7319/gal.