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Traders Eye 200 Bcf-plus Withdrawal as Natural Gas Futures Gain Early

With the market turning its attention to what could be one of the largest reported storage withdrawals of the heating season, natural gas futures were trading higher early Thursday, building on gains over the previous two sessions. The April Nymex futures contract was up 2.8 cents to $2.848/MMBtu shortly after 8:30 a.m. ET.

Estimates have the Energy Information Administration (EIA) reporting a withdrawal greater than 200 Bcf in this week’s report, due out at 10:30 a.m. ET.

As of Wednesday afternoon, a Bloomberg survey showed a median expectation for a 210 Bcf withdrawal for the week ended March 8, based on 11 estimates ranging from minus 202 Bcf to minus 219 Bcf. Intercontinental Exchange EIA financial weekly index futures settled Wednesday at a withdrawal of 205 Bcf. NGI’s model predicted a 222 Bcf withdrawal for this week’s report.

A pull north of the 200 Bcf mark would be bullish compared to historical norms and would significantly widen defitics. Last year EIA recorded an 88 Bcf pull for the period, and the five-year average is a withdrawal of 99 Bcf.

After seemingly establishing firm support this week around $2.752, and with colder temperatures expected over the next week or so, the front month could test resistance around $2.86-2.91 Thursday, according to EBW Analytics Group CEO Andy Weissman.

“With shorts waiting until the end of cold weather nears to expand their short positions, there is little to prevent gas prices from slowly creeping higher,” Weissman said. “...This morning’s storage report could significantly affect where the current rebound tops out...We expect a draw near the low end of the range, with a 200 Bcf withdrawal. Even a relatively small swing in percentage terms could result in a 5-10 Bcf miss, potentially in either direction.”

As for the latest weather outlook, for the six- to 10-day forecast period Radiant Solutions noted a “mix of small changes in the West, with the Northwest trending warmer while parts of the Rockies are colder. Little change is noted most elsewhere in a period which continues to feature rounds of high pressure through the Eastern Half.

“Below normal temperatures result from the South to the Mid-Atlantic from early to mid-period, and belows are also found early in the East where moderation is expected as the period progresses. Out ahead of a Pacific trough moving inland are aboves to start the period along the West Coast, which migrate toward the Midcontinent in the second half.”

In the 11-15 day period, Radiant said the largest change over the past 24 hours came from the European model, which trended colder for the eastern half of the Lower 48.

“As a result, the forecast also scales back the intensity of aboves, but to a smaller degree, while lowering confidence,” the forecaster said. “Within the atmospheric background are similar features as previous,” including features associated with El Nino and the positive Western Pacific Oscillation. With help from the positive North Atlantic Oscillation “the forecast has above normal temperatures from the Midwest to the East.”

April crude oil futures were trading 26 cents higher at $58.52/bbl shortly after 8:30 a.m. ET, while April RBOB gasoline was up about 1.5 cents to $1.8715/gal.

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