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Potential Late-Winter Cold Boosts Natural Gas Futures as Market Awaits EIA Data

Further cold trends in the overnight forecasts and the potential for a larger-than-average withdrawal from weekly government storage data helped lift natural gas futures early Thursday. The March Nymex contract was trading 3.9 cents higher at $2.675/MMBtu shortly before 9 a.m. ET.

Radiant Solutions observed colder trends in both the six- to 10-day and 11-15 day outlook periods in its updated forecasts Thursday. The latest forecast trends included a “large cold change” from the Midwest toward the East in the six- to 10-day, coming in response to “model trends over the past 24 hours but also on a polar air flow directed by a blocking ridge near Alaska.

“Rounds of strong cold are filtered into the Midcontinent, and strong belows are forecast in Chicago for the mid to late period when temperatures drop back into the single digits for lows,” the forecaster said. “Confidence is lowered on diverging models, especially in the early half of the period in the Midwest, South and East.”

As for the 11-15 day, Radiant is forecasting colder temperatures across the eastern half of the Lower 48, with the blocking ridge over Alaska lingering at least through the early part of the period.

“As a result, rounds of colder air will continue to be sent southward through the Eastern Half, and much to strong belows are common in the period composite from the Plains toward the East Coast.”

Models continue to lock in on a late-winter cold pattern moving in by next week, with gas-weighted degree day expectations increasing overnight, according to Bespoke Weather Services.

“While models will bounce around on the exact intensity of cold in the first week of March, it is clear that a very significant late-winter cold shot is on the way, which fits well with both an upstream tropical forcing signal and a clear Nino-like atmospheric influence returning,” Bespoke said. While heating demand looks to ease toward the middle third of March, “we still see very significant cold set to begin next week and intensify through the ensuing 10 days.”

Bespoke said it expects a bullish number from today’s Energy Information Administration (EIA) storage report, anticipating a 172 Bcf withdrawal when the data releases at 10:30 a.m. ET.

“We would favor risk that today’s number misses bullish over bearish to the consensus,” the firm said.

Estimates for this week’s storage report are clustered around a withdrawal near 170 Bcf. A Bloomberg survey of 13 market participants had a withdrawal range of 142 Bcf to 181 Bcf, and a median of 169 Bcf. EBW Analytics Group projected a 166 Bcf pull, and Intercontinental Exchange settled Wednesday at a pull of 170 Bcf. NGI also projected a 170 Bcf draw.

The estimates compare to last year’s 134 Bcf withdrawal for the similar week and the five-year average pull of 148 Bcf, according to EIA. Last week, the EIA’s reported 78 Bcf draw left inventories at 1,882 Bcf, 30 Bcf below last year and 333 Bcf below the five-year average.

April crude oil futures were trading slightly lower early Thursday, down about 14 cents to $57.02/bbl, while March RBOB gasoline was off fractionally to $1.5920/gal.

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