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Intense Cold Shot Seen Sweeping into February; Natural Gas Futures Called Higher

With colder trends showing up in the overnight guidance and the market turning its attention to the upcoming release of government storage data, February Nymex natural gas futures were up sharply just before 9 a.m. ET Thursday, trading 17.6 cents higher at $3.560/MMBtu.

Estimates have been pointing to a withdrawal in the mid 70s to 80s Bcf range for this week’s Energy Information Administration (EIA) storage report, set to release at 10:30 a.m. ET. The actual figure is likely to look meager compared to both the 208 Bcf withdrawal EIA recorded for the year-ago period and the five-year average 218 Bcf pull.

As of Wednesday afternoon, a Bloomberg survey of market participants showed a median estimate for a withdrawal of 76 Bcf for the week ended Jan. 11. That was based on 14 estimates ranging from minus 55 Bcf to minus 92 Bcf. A Reuters survey pointed to an 82 Bcf withdrawal, with responses ranging from minus 55 Bcf to minus 100 Bcf.

Several estimates were all in the mid-to-high 80 Bcf range.

IAF Advisors analyst Kyle Cooper called for an 89 Bcf pull, while Bespoke Weather Services estimated an 83 Bcf withdrawal and EBW Analytics Group called for an 85 Bcf pull. Intercontinental Exchange EIA Financial Weekly Index futures settled Wednesday at a withdrawal of 84 Bcf.

“It was warmer than normal over almost the entire country” during this week’s storage report period, “especially so across the Midwest and central U.S.,” NatGasWeather said. “Our algorithm sees it at minus 86 Bcf, to the bullish side.”

Meanwhile, the forecaster viewed the overnight guidance as mixed, with the the latest Global Forecast System data trending slightly less impressive for upcoming cold shots as the European model added heating degree days (HDD).

“Both still see an intimidating series of frigid polar blasts lined up this weekend through the rest of the month, with only brief breaks in between,” NatGasWeather said. “...While prices sold off sharply Wednesday, we continue to view weather sentiment as at least moderately bullish, aided by the overnight European weather model adding some HDDs back compared to Wednesday’s data.

“Trade before and after today’s EIA weekly storage report should be quite volatile, where price swings of 20 cents or more should again be expected. We see the direction of weather trends likely being more important than the direction of the EIA storage report miss.”

Bespoke Weather Services said based on the latest guidance it sees cold risks increasing into early February, with models showing a “significant” negative Eastern Pacific Oscillation and a “growing” negative North Atlantic Oscillation that could “deliver a sustained cold shot to end January that rivals what we see over the weekend. This remains likely to linger at least through Week 3 as we see solid staying power with any stronger air.”

Prices could dip if upcoming American model guidance fails to show cooler trends, Bespoke said.

“However, we still favor cold European guidance winning out Week 2 into Week 3 as long-range cold should roll forward, which eventually will allow the February contract to test and likely break $3.70-3.75 resistance moving into next week even if brief pullbacks can occur before then,” according to the firm.

February crude oil was trading $1 lower at $51.31/bbl shortly before 9 a.m. ET, while February RBOB gasoline was off about 2.6 cents to $1.3904/gal.

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