Despite receiving news of a 78 Bcf natural gas storage injection that was inline with a number of industry estimates, natural gas futures shot higher Thursday morning as some market participants had been anticipating an even larger build.
Following three straight days of tight trading ranges and marginal declines, the August contract on Thursday traded in a 33-cent range before closing out the regular session at $4.586, up 28 cents from Wednesday's finish.
Heading into the 10:30 a.m. EDT report by the Energy Information Administration (EIA), August futures had worked lower to $4.288, but immediately following the report for the week ending July 9, the prompt-month contract shot up to $4.553. From there, futures ran up to a high of $4.622 before coming off a few pennies before the close.
Citi Futures Perspective analyst Tim Evans called the injection "neutral" when consulting industry estimates, but noted that it was "supportive" when compared to historical figures.
"The 78 Bcf in net injections was right in line with market expectations, although it was a supportive figure in contrast with an 89 Bcf five-year average," he said. "And so in economic terms this was a bullish outcome. Ongoing forecasts for warmer than normal temperatures suggest more supportive storage results in the weeks ahead."
Ahead of the report, Evans had been expecting a 79 Bcf build, while a Reuters survey of 26 industry traders produced a wide 55 Bcf to 90 Bcf injection range with an average build estimate of 78 Bcf. However, some estimates were higher. Bentek Energy's flow model had been projecting an 88 Bcf injection for the week. In addition to being bullish when compared to the 890 Bcf five-year average injection, the 78 Bcf build was also bullish when compared to last year's date-adjusted 88 Bcf injection.
"The market rallied 20 cents off earlier lows following the bullish storage number, which suggests slightly tighter-than-expected balances," said Teri Viswanath, an analyst with Credit Suisse. "However, we think it might be premature to call for a reversal of this month's downward trend in prices. Despite being on tempo to be one of the hottest summers in nearly 30 years, the industry continues to build at an impressive pace. With higher levels of domestic production on the market, as well as signs of improvements in imports, it seems the only possible setback could lie in the outcome of an eventful hurricane season."
As of July 9, working gas in storage stood at 2,840 Bcf, according to EIA estimates. Stocks are now 33 Bcf less than last year at this time, but still 274 Bcf above the five-year average of 2,566 Bcf. The East Region injected 43 Bcf while the Producing and West regions added 24 Bcf and 11 Bcf, respectively.
Viswanath said the answer to the million dollar question of whether storage levels will reach another record level this year is likely yes. "If the industry simply refills at the 10-year average rate, the end-of-season inventories will rise to 3.8 Tcf," she said in a research note. "However, so far this season, injections are running roughly 12% higher than average, suggesting that this year's storage levels might set new records of 3.9 Tcf or higher. These inventory levels are currently higher than our projections and would suggest further downside risk to prices."
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