May natural gas was set to open Thursday about 2.4 cents lower at around $2.715, with the market turning its attention to weekly government storage data, which analysts said could prove pivotal in setting a direction for prices.
Predictions for this Thursday’s 10:30 a.m. ET Energy Information Administration (EIA) storage report show the market anticipating another April withdrawal, significantly tighter than recent norms as lingering cold has delayed the start of injection season.
A Reuters survey of traders and analysts on average predicted a 23 Bcf withdrawal from U.S. gas stocks for the week ending April 13, bullish versus last year’s 47 Bcf injection and a five-year average injection of 38 Bcf. Responses to the survey ranged from minus 7 Bcf to minus 30 Bcf. A Bloomberg survey produced a median withdrawal of 26 Bcf, with responses ranging from minus 11 Bcf to minus 30 Bcf.
OPIS By IHS Markit this week called for EIA to report a 24 Bcf withdrawal for the period. IAF Advisors analyst Kyle Cooper predicted a 27 Bcf withdrawal, while Intercontinental Exchange EIA storage futures settled Wednesday at a withdrawal of 26 Bcf.
“The next two to three trading days could be a critical inflection point for natural gas,” EBW Analytics Group CEO Andy Weissman told clients Thursday. “With much below-average temperatures covering a large portion of the country, the May contract traded as high as $2.79 Wednesday before selling off toward the end of the day due to profit-taking ahead of this morning’s weekly storage report.
“Today’s report could have a significant impact on where the market heads next,” Weissman said. If the report shows a draw “near or above the upper end of the range, this week’s rally could continue, with a potential test of resistance at $2.81 or higher. With heating demand already starting to fade quickly, however, if the report is near or below consensus level, prices are likely to head lower, with the potential for a retest of support at $2.63-2.68.”
Radiant Solutions’ six- to 10-day forecast Thursday was “mostly unchanged...with only a small cooler leaning versus pervious along the West Coast and small warmer leaning in the Rockies. Otherwise, this period continues to feature temperatures at normal to below normal levels across the Eastern Half, with cool air along the East Coast early on related to onshore flow while low pressure tracking along the East Coast through mid-period helps to pull in yet another round of below normal temperatures through the Midwest and South.”
From a technical standpoint, “the long shadows above and below this week’s candlesticks suggest neither the bulls nor the bears are in control at the moment,” according to ICAP Technical Analysis analyst Brian LaRose. “For that reason a defensive stance is warranted. However...to have any case for derailing a levitation to $2.820-2.846 the bears must force natural gas below $2.657. I will be treating any pull back from here as corrective in nature otherwise.”
May crude oil was set to open Thursday about 75 cents higher at around $69.22/bbl, while May RBOB gasoline was trading up about 1.4 cents to around $2.0825/gal.