April natural gas was set to open Wednesday near even at around $2.679 amid mixed changes overnight in the forecast for the first two weeks of March.
“The latest overnight weather data was just slightly colder March 6-10 in both the Global Forecast System and European weather models, but then notably milder over the eastern half of the country March 12-15,” NatGasWeather.com said in a note to clients Wednesday. “...We expect cool air to linger over the East Coast March 12-15, although with warming over large stretches of the central and southern U.S., which we view as a neutral-to-bearish pattern, as it just doesn’t look could enough over enough of the country to impress.
“There are certainly ways mid-March trends colder, but the data would need to show better potential soon, and the overnight data did the opposite and trended warmer over the eastern half of the country March 12.”
Even with weather guidance trending milder at several points last week and this week, prices have held at current levels, with buyers stepping in “any time there’s been more than a 5-7 cent sell-off,” NatGasWeather said. “This suggests other factors have been keeping prices off recent lows besides weather. The question is how long will this continue” given strong production and a lack of heating demand “before and after March 7-11.”
Estimates for Thursday’s Energy Information Administration (EIA) storage report have been pointing to a smaller withdrawal versus the five-year average but tighter than a year ago.
Stephen Smith Energy Associates said Tuesday it’s expecting a 74 Bcf withdrawal for the week ending Feb. 23. The Desk’s Early View survey, released last week, showed participants expecting on average a 70.9 Bcf withdrawal, with responses ranging from -60 Bcf to -86 Bcf.
Intercontinental Exchange futures for the upcoming report settled at -81 Bcf Tuesday.
In the year-ago period, 7 Bcf was withdrawn, while the five-year average withdrawal is -118 Bcf, according to EIA data.
“A picture is worth a thousand words. The 60-minute chart for April natural gas tells us where the market has been and where it is likely going -- sideways,” analysts with Rafferty Commodities Group said following Tuesday’s close. “For a good percentage of the time, markets are in consolidation patterns where they will trade sideways until breaking out one way or another...we still believe that the market is forming a base.”
Looking at the recent sideways action, ICAP Technical Analysis analyst Walter Zimmerman wondered whether natural gas is seeing “a super slow motion rebound or a bear market rest stop? Unknown. Later February to early March is the timing window for a winter to spring pre-season rally.
“But if this is bottoming action then it is still very heavily disguised,” Zimmerman said. “To even have a case for a bear market correction natural gas first needs a decisive close above the $2.800 level, and at the pace of this crawl higher it will take until mid-March to get there.”
April crude oil was set to open about 3 cents higher at around $63.04, while March RBOB gasoline was down fractionally at around $1.7950/gal.