April natural gas was set to open less than a penny higher at $2.64 Thursday as sustained cold outlooks for early next month gave traders enough reason to nudge up the prompt month ahead of today’s storage report from the Energy Information Administration (EIA).
Weather data overnight Wednesday maintained cooling across the northern United States for April 1-5 for stronger-than-normal demand and “could be seen trending further colder” in both the American and European weather models, NatGasWeather said. “The pattern would look more intimidating if it wasn’t for many of the weather models showing the potential for the cold pool over the northern U.S. to gradually retreat back into Canada around April 6-8. We still see the data as being somewhat bullish overall.”
Meanwhile, early estimates for the week ending March 16 showed the EIA reporting a storage withdrawal in the upper 80 Bcf to lower 90 Bcf range, which would reduce inventories to around 1,445 Bcf and widen the deficit to the five-year average to roughly 335 Bcf. For the comparable week last year, 137 Bcf was withdrawn from storage and the five-year average withdrawal stands at just 53 Bcf.
A Reuters survey of traders and analysts on average predicted an 87 Bcf withdrawal, with responses ranging from 77 Bcf to 99 Bcf. Kyle Cooper of IAF Advisors projected a storage draw of 87 Bcf on Thursday, Stephen Smith Energy Associates forecast a 92 Bcf draw, while OPIS estimated a draw of 89 Bcf, driven by gains in supply offsetting a third week of strong weather-driven demand in the Northeast and Midwest. Intercontinental Exchange EIA storage futures settled at -87 Bcf Wednesday for this week’s report.
Despite the cold outlooks for early April and the potentially supportive storage data, record production remains a significant headwind for the market, sending the April contract lower on Wednesday after starting off the trading session on the upswing. Still, analysts at Bespoke Weather Services do not yet see too strong of a fundamental case for prices to move back below final support of $2.58-2.60.
Production levels remain elevated and nuclear outages are far lower than last year, resulting in weaker raw power burns and limiting demand, the weather forecaster noted. “However, on an adjusted basis, burns are still tight” and unless the new storage report misses its estimate of an 88 Bcf draw, “we continue to see a market that is tight enough to have set a floor back in the middle of February.”
There are risks that, like December, the market becomes too complacent and lowers the entire strip, with production able to overwhelm all storage shortages, Bespoke said. “This is our main concern, as this would indicate the market would only have limited intentions of filling storage to 3.7-3.8 Tcf, which it seems prices would need to remain above $2.60 to do unless far more production came online.”
Regardless, the weather forecaster sees weather over the next couple of weeks as supportive despite some potential mid-April warming trends, and forecasters would expect an EIA print hitting its expectation to “at least stabilize prices in their current range, with increasing nuclear outages enough to lead a recovery.”
May crude oil futures were set to open 4 cents higher at $65.21, while April RBOB gasoline was called 1.6 cents lower at $1.995.