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Above-Average Withdrawal On Tap as March Natural Gas Called Higher

March Nymex natural gas futures were trading 2.4 cents higher at $2.878/MMBtu shortly before 9 a.m. ET Thursday, with forecasters pointing to some colder overnight trends as the market was preparing to digest upcoming government storage data.

Estimates for Thursday’s Energy Information Administration (EIA) storage report point to a withdrawal in the mid to high 180 Bcf range, which compares with last year’s 126 Bcf draw and the five-year average draw of 150 Bcf.

As of Wednesday a Bloomberg survey of 10 market participants had a withdrawal range of 165 to 228 Bcf, with a median of 197 Bcf. A Reuters survey of 20 analysts showed a range of 165 to 207 Bcf, with a median of 189 Bcf. Kyle Cooper of IAF Advisors projected a 188 Bcf pull, EBW Analytics Group expected a 186 Bcf draw and Bespoke Weather Services called for a 189 Bcf pull. Intercontinental Exchange settled Wednesday at a 184 Bcf withdrawal.

“It was colder than normal across the Midwest, Central U.S., Ohio Valley and much of the Northeast, while warmer than normal across most of the West and Southeast,” NatGasWeather said of this week’s storage report period. “Our algorithm sees it at minus 188-189 Bcf, in line to slightly bearish versus national surveys.”

Meanwhile, the Global Forecast System (GFS) data added to demand expectations overnight by better aligning with the colder European model, especially on weather systems arriving Feb. 7-14, according to the forecaster.

“Essentially, after the notably mild break this weekend through the middle of next week, stronger demand will arrive as cold shots return across the northern U.S., but still with brief one to two day breaks,” NatGasWeather said. “The current and coming pattern would be considered neutral to modestly bullish if it wasn’t for the exceptionally warm break this weekend into next week that really stands out.

“...We don’t expect today’s EIA report will get much of a reaction unless there’s a miss lighter than minus 185 Bcf or draw stronger than 190 Bcf. But we do expect a more volatile session where midday weather trends could be important.”

Radiant Solutions observed colder changes in both its six- to 10-day and 11-15 day outlooks Thursday.

In the six- to 10-day cold adjustments were focused on the “latter stages in Texas but throughout the period from the far northern Rockies into the Northern Plains,” Radiant said. “These changes are in response to a stronger surface high breaking away from the colder Canadian source region and pushing south and eastward. Still colder risks are found under this high, focused in Central at mid-period and along the East Coast late. Prior to this colder push are temperatures in the strong above normal category to start the period in the South and East.”

Radiant noted colder changes in the 11-15 day period associated with “high pressure making its way southward into the Midcontinent early on and toward the East in the second half.” Models are supportive of a large-scale pattern that would “correlate with colder air along the Northern Tier and in the West, but with warmer variability along a southern tier storm track. A colder than normal national pattern is also supported by tropical storminess along the International Dateline, but this lends low confidence in the regional details.

Looking at the technicals, the March contract has been flirting with some major support levels, according to analysts with Rafferty Commodities Group.

Wednesday’s trading saw an “intra-day penetration” of an uptrend line in the daily continuation chart going back to July, before the market closed back above the line, the Rafferty team said.

“Today the uptrend line lies at the $2.872 level. The low of $2.802 in March that occurred early in yesterday’s trading session approached the next major support level at $2.771,” the analysts said.

March crude oil was trading 11 cents higher at $54.34/bbl shortly before 9 a.m. ET Thursday, while February RBOB gasoline was trading about 1.3 cents higher at $1.3956/gal.

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