Traders were mostly unfazed Thursday morning as the Energy Information Administration (EIA) reported that 96 Bcf was injected into underground storage for the week ended May 4, which was right in line with industry estimates. As a result, June natural gas traded in another tight range on the day before settling at $7.726, up less than a penny on the day.
The storage number, which was somewhat bearish when compared to last year's 81 Bcf build and the five-year average injection of 65 Bcf, appeared to be not as big as bears had hoped. After trading approximately a nickel below Wednesday's close on Thursday morning at $7.670, June natural gas futures climbed to $7.740 just minutes after the report was released.
"We had a little weakness before the number, but the bears must not have gotten what they were looking for from the report because they all retreated, leaving this thing to settle near unchanged," said a Washington, DC-based broker.
"We are caught in this very tight little range from about $7.50 to $8 and I think everyone is reaching a level of exasperation or confusion," he added. "One client said Thursday that the markets should just be closed if they aren't going to do anything. He said if the market is just going to continue to go back and forth in very small increments, then what's the purpose of that? Futures have just been range-bound and you really couldn't find much more prototypical shoulder season behavior."
Commenting on the sizeable injection when compared to historical injections for the week, the broker noted that storage is moving towards the upper end of the five-year range band, "so one ought to think that would add a slight bearish tint to the market, but that is probably equaled out on the bullish side by having a named storm in the Atlantic. While the storm is not doing anything, it gets everyone thinking about maybe 'early' means 'more active' and what that could portend for three months from now."
Jay Levine, a broker with enerjay LLC, called the report "very much in line" with industry expectations. "[Natural gas futures] are still hanging tough, and I think this number under 100 could lend modest support (strange as that sounds...)" He added that the "complex feels like it's about to get very choppy very soon."
With the market range-trading between $7 to $8 over the past few months, traders continue to look for potential breakout-worthy fundamental news. Most agree that summer heat and hurricanes will likely shake futures free to the upside, but with those elements still a ways away, the debate is whether anything in the interim can do the same.
Most had been looking for an injection in the 90s Bcf area, with a few noting that a healthy triple-digit injection could have applied some significant downward pressure on prices.
A Reuters survey of 23 estimates found that storage levels were expected to rise by approximately 98 Bcf for the week, while the ICAP storage options auction Wednesday afternoon produced a 98 Bcf injection consensus. Golden, CO-based Bentek Energy's Flow Model indicated an injection of 99 Bcf.
As of May 4, working gas in storage was 1,747 Bcf, according to EIA estimates. Stocks are 230 Bcf less than last year at this time and 297 Bcf above the five-year average of 1,450 Bcf.
The East region injected 61 Bcf for the week, while the Producing region put in 23 Bcf and the West region chipped in 12 Bcf.
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