With the market expecting the Energy Information Administration (EIA) to report an unusually light storage pull, and with mixed signals from the overnight weather data, natural gas futures were trading slightly lower early Thursday. The February Nymex contract was off 1.4 cents to $2.127/MMBtu at around 8:40 a.m. ET.
Estimates for today’s weekly EIA inventory report, scheduled for 10:30 a.m. ET, have been pointing to a withdrawal well shy of historical norms for the week ended Jan. 3.
A Bloomberg survey showed a median pull of 52 Bcf, with estimates ranging from minus 46 Bcf to minus 73 Bcf. A Reuters survey landed on a 53 Bcf withdrawal, based on predictions from minus 41 Bcf to minus 73 Bcf. Intercontinental Exchange EIA Financial Weekly Index futures settled Wednesday at minus 52 Bcf. NGI’s model predicted a 51 Bcf withdrawal.
Last year, EIA reported a 91 Bcf withdrawal for the week ended Jan. 4, 2019. NGI calculations using EIA historical data show a five-year average withdrawal of 169 Bcf. That includes a record-setting 359 Bcf pull recorded for the week ended Jan. 5, 2018.
“It was much warmer than normal over the eastern half of the country, with the Southwest and Rockies the only cool U.S. locations” during this week’s EIA report period, according to NatGasWeather. “Our algorithm predicts a draw of 49-51 Bcf, a touch to the bearish side. But if it were to miss, we expect it would be further to the bearish side.”
As for the overnight weather data, the forecaster noted further colder trends from the Global Forecast System (GFS) for Jan. 16-22 but with disagreement from the warmer-trending European data.
“We need to be careful, as the weather data has been quite inconsistent all week, bouncing between colder and milder trends,” NatGasWeather said. “But with the European model losing demand, the natural gas markets are disappointed and will have to wait” for subsequent model runs Thursday to determine “if this milder trend shows up in the rest of the data.”
Over the past few days models have identified a shift to colder-than-normal temperatures possibly starting late next week, but markets have not responded, EBW Analytics Group analysts said.
“This is primarily due to understandable skepticism in the wake of repeated false alarms,” the analysts said. “It also is attributable to uncertainty regarding the duration of the colder weather and to current, extremely weak cash prices at a time when temperatures over much of the country are far above normal.”
Warm weather over the eastern half of the Lower 48 over the next week should keep cash prices depressed and continue to feed skepticism in the market, according to EBW. “The potential remains, however, for a significant move up next week.”
February crude oil futures were trading 12 cents higher at $59.73/bbl at around 8:40 a.m. ET, while February RBOB gasoline was trading fractionally higher at $1.6562/gal.