Natural gas futures jumped higher Wednesday afternoon in sympathy with a similar rise in the petroleum complex, which was sparked by an escalation of turmoil in Nigeria and U.S. refinery outages. After putting in a low of $6.560 in morning trade, June natural gas took off higher in the afternoon to record a high of $6.920 before closing at $6.900, up 31.9 cents on the day.

Despite somewhat bearish petroleum inventory reports from the Department of Energy and the American Petroleum Institute, fear once again gripped the market as reports hit the newswire that a Baker Hughes executive was murdered on Wednesday in the streets of southern Nigeria. In addition, reports filtered through the trading pits that there were some problems at some U.S. refineries. Just after 12:30 p.m. EDT, June unleaded gasoline and June crude shot higher, bringing June natural gas along for the ride. June gasoline ended up closing a whopping 12.28 cents higher at $2.1694/gallon, while June crude settled $1.44 higher at $72.13/bbl.

"The Nigeria unrest along with significant problems with some refineries Wednesday definitely got gasoline futures and crude futures going, which pulled natural gas higher in turn," said a Washington, DC-based broker. "We will have to see how long the refinery issues continue."

Focusing on natural gas, the broker said prompt-month natural gas continues to have "the disappointing inability" to hold the $7 level. "Just when it looked like we were getting back into the $7.00 to $7.50 range last week, we collapsed back lower to $6.50. Even with Wednesday's run-up, I am not all that convinced that the bulls are back in the saddle. Even though $6.49 or $6.50 look like pretty strong support, you have to remember that we held just under $7.00 as support not too long ago for a much longer period of time. Obviously, we ultimately ended up breaking below that level.

"My short-term momentum is still a little bit on the bearish side of things," he added. "In order for the bulls to take control and follow through on Wednesday's gains, we would need to see a pretty small injection in Thursday morning's natural gas storage report, which doesn't look like it is going to happen. In order for natural gas to make a decent move, we are going to have to find some weather here. Whether the market launches from a $6.50 or $7.00 basing point, I don't know. Once the weather gets here, this thing can certainly be moved, but the shorts aren't being faked out of their positions yet."

The near-term weather picture continues to look mild, while the outlook for the next three months appears mixed. According to Andover, MA-based WSI Corp., the May-July period should average above normal temperatures for a majority of the U.S., except in the East, which is expected to see some cooler than normal conditions.

Looking at the Energy Information Administration's natural gas storage report for the week ended May 5, the broker said he is expecting a build in the 73-83 Bcf area, which appears to be the consensus area for the industry. While recent industry estimates have shown wide ranges, most industry players appear to be on the same page this week.

Golden, CO-based Bentek Energy is projecting a storage injection of 79 Bcf, which is the exact number a Reuters survey of 18 industry players is calling for. Bentek said it is expecting a 50 Bcf injection in the East region, 18 Bcf added in the Producing region and 11 Bcf put into underground stores in the West region. Showing the solidarity on this week's report, the ICAP derivatives auction Wednesday afternoon revealed a consensus injection of 79.2 Bcf.

The number revealed Thursday morning will be compared to last year's 52 Bcf injection and the five-year average build of 71 Bcf.

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