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Market’s Attention Turns to EIA Storage; February Natural Gas Called Lower

February natural gas was set to open Thursday about 4 cents lower at around $3.190/MMBtu, with the market turning its attention to the 10:30 a.m. EDT release of this week's government storage report.

On Wednesday the February contract surged 10.3 cents to $3.232 despite a relatively mild weather outlook through the end of January. Wednesday's intraday high of $3.288 was the highest a front-month contract has traded since last May 23, when the June 2017 futures contract reached $3.333.

The Energy Information Administration (EIA) was expected to unveil another large withdrawal to follow last week's record number. A Reuters survey of traders and analysts on average predicted EIA will report a 199 Bcf withdrawal for the week ending Jan. 12, versus a year-ago withdrawal of 230 Bcf and a five-year average pull of 203 Bcf. Responses ranged from -180 Bcf to -215 Bcf.

Stephen Smith Energy Associates in its Weekly Gas Outlook predicted a withdrawal of 196 Bcf, versus a seasonally normal weekly withdrawal of 187 Bcf based on 2006-2010 norms. PointLogic Energy predicted a 197 Bcf withdrawal. Kyle Cooper of ION Energy was forecasting a withdrawal of 193 Bcf.

EIA for the week ending Jan. 5 reported a record-shattering 359 Bcf withdrawal from U.S. gas stocks. That withdrawal reported last week left inventories at 2,767 Bcf, 415 Bcf below prior-year levels and 382 Bcf below the five-year average, according to EIA data.

In its latest weather outlook Thursday, Radiant Solutions forecast mostly mild conditions through Feb. 1.

"A stronger area of low pressure has changes being in the warmer direction and focused out ahead of this feature in the Midwest from mid to late period and along the East Coast late,” Radiant said in the six- to 10-day forecast. “Overall, this brings a period which averages in the above normal category from the Midwest to the East, with most areas in the South also leaning on the warmer side of normal."

Meanwhile, the latest 11- to 15-day outlook featured "a larger warm change in this period as well," Radiant said, "with aboves now forecast to average the period" in the eastern third of the Lower 48. “This comes in part as a result of stronger warmth along the East Coast where the late six- to 10-day low is slower to track through; but even following a colder round of normals associated with high pressure at mid-period, rebounding aboves are more intense in the forecast late as well."

Powerhouse Vice President David Thompson said Wednesday's settle marked a technical breakout above a recent high of $3.231 set in November, although he also noted the lack of impressive cold in recent weather guidance.

"Everybody's already seeing some warming coming, but maybe the thought is this week's cold will feed into next week's number" from EIA, he said following Wednesday’s close. "Anybody's ongoing forecast doesn't show anything meriting this big of a pop. We've had two very big days out of the last four. Three out of the four are up. That's moderately bullish there, but the question again comes down to where does this put us in the big picture?"

February crude oil was set to open about 5 cents higher at around $64.02, while February RBOB gasoline was up fractionally to around $1.8635/gal.

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