With overnight weather data coming in somewhat warmer and the market shifting its focus to the upcoming release of weekly natural gas inventory data, Nymex futures were trading slightly lower early Thursday. The April contract was trading 1.8 cents lower at $2.823/MMBtu just after 8:30 a.m. ET.

Predictions ahead of today’s Energy Information Administration (EIA) storage report -- due out at 10:30 a.m. ET -- have pointed to a third consecutive larger-than-average weekly withdrawal.

As of Wednesday afternoon, a Bloomberg survey showed a median prediction for a 145 Bcf pull for the week ended March 1, with a range of minus 123 Bcf to minus 155 Bcf based on nine estimates. A Reuters survey pointed to a 141 Bcf pull, based on 20 responses falling within the same range of minus 123 Bcf to minus 155 Bcf.

Intercontinental Exchange (ICE) EIA financial weekly index futures settled Wednesday at a withdrawal of 150 Bcf. NGI’s storage model predicted a 136 Bcf withdrawal.

Last year, EIA recorded a 60 Bcf withdrawal for the period, and the five-year average is a pull of 109 Bcf.

There’s a “reasonably high” chance prices decline further through the end of the month, but the upcoming EIA report could still shape the direction of prices in the near term, according to EBW Analytics Group CEO Andy Weissman.

“The consensus forecast is for a draw between 142 Bcf and 146 Bcf,” Weissman said. “Several analysts that rely heavily on pipeline scrape data, though, are predicting a significantly larger draw -- perhaps as high as 155 Bcf. With the potential for a 200 Bcf-plus draw next week, a re-test of resistance at $2.89 is possible -- if this morning’s draw is substantially above the top of the consensus range.”

As for the overnight guidance, NatGasWeather viewed it as “slightly milder trending,” noting that the colder Global Forecast System dropped 14 heating degree days (HDD) from its outlook to fall better in line with the other data.

“The European model also lost demand, but a much lesser 4 HDDs,” NatGasWeather said. “No major changes for the next two weeks with frigid cold losing its grip across the southern and eastern U.S. the next few days, easing national demand.

“...We continue to view the overall weather pattern the next 15 days as modestly bullish as deficits are expected to top 600 Bcf in the weeks ahead, potentially further if cold can hold past March 20,” the forecaster said. “Clearly, the background state will remain bullish for some time, but that still hasn’t been able to result in a strong weather-driven rally, with prices remaining well below $3.” If the prospect of a 600 Bcf storage deficit to the five-year average “can’t take out $3 on the front months, how low will prices be when weather eventually cooperates,” leading to surpluses?

April crude oil futures were trading 60 cents higher at $56.82/bbl shortly after 8:30 a.m. ET, while April RBOB gasoline was up about 2.4 cents to $1.8126/gal.