With forecasters pointing to a colder medium-range weather outlook overnight as the market prepares to digest this week’s government storage report, February Nymex natural gas futures were trading 12.0 cents higher at $3.100/MMBtu shortly before 9 a.m. ET Thursday.
Estimates ahead of this week’s Energy Information Administration (EIA) storage report -- set to release at 10:30 a.m. ET -- were wide-ranging but pointed to another in a stretch of below-average, deficit-shrinking withdrawals.
As of Wednesday afternoon, a Bloomberg survey showed a median expectation for a 155 Bcf pull for the week ended Jan. 18 based on 10 predictions ranging from minus 85 Bcf to minus 163 Bcf. A Reuters survey showed an average 154 Bcf withdrawal, with estimates ranging from minus 130 Bcf to minus 166 Bcf. Intercontinental Exchange EIA Financial Weekly Index futures settled Wednesday at a withdrawal of 160 Bcf.
A pull in the 155-165 Bcf range would easily top the less-than-impressive 81 Bcf withdrawal EIA reported last week for the period ended Jan. 11. But it would fall short of the five-year average 185 Bcf pull and come in well below the 273 Bcf withdrawal EIA recorded in the year-ago period.
“It was warmer than normal over most of the country besides the cooler East,” NatGasWeather said of this week’s report period. “Our algorithm predicts a draw of 155 Bcf, near expectations to slightly bearish.”
Meanwhile, the forecaster viewed the overnight weather data as colder trending, showing an “impressive polar blast arriving next week with dangerous temperatures” ranging from the negative 30s up into the teens for much of the northern and central United States. The data also showed cold holding longer over the northern part of the country before retreating back into Canada around Feb. 4-7, according to the forecaster.
“The European model wasn’t quite as warm with the Feb. 4-7 pattern in the latest data, seeing a little more cooling into the west-central and northern U.S.,” NatGasWeather said. “...Any colder trends Feb. 4-7 and the data is going to look much less bearish” as this period has given markets “so much angst this week since temperatures before then are impressively cold...We expect after-EIA report trade will be quite interesting to see if the markets finally get a bit more intimidated by next week’s potentially record-setting polar blast.”
The latest outlook from Radiant Solutions Thursday showed colder revisions focused in the Midwest and East in the six- to 10-day period.
“Colder changes since yesterday’s outlook are associated with a lobe of the polar vortex making its way toward the Midwest in the early half of the period and accompanying high pressure left in its wake,” the forecaster said. “The East likewise trends colder under these features, while warmer changes are focused in the West.”
Breaking from the trends observed in the six- to 10-day, in the 11-15 day period a “breakdown of ridging in the northern Pacific helps to lift the polar vortex northward,” Radiant said. “This results in a flow through North America that is not as cleanly from the Arctic. Warm changes are made to the forecast in response,” but “transport of cold air remains with rounds of high pressure through the Midwest and East.”
March crude oil was trading 40 cents lower at $52.22/bbl shortly before 9 a.m. ET Thursday, while February RBOB gasoline was trading fractionally lower at $1.3769/gal.