Natural gas futures bulls received a little cheer heading into the Thanksgiving holiday after the Energy Information Administration (EIA) reported that 6 Bcf was withdrawn from underground storage for the week ending Nov. 19. As a result, December futures jumped higher Wednesday only to give back those gains to go off the board at $4.267, up three-tenths of a penny from Tuesday's finish and 10.3 cents higher than the previous Friday's close.
Heading into the holiday-related release of storage data, the December contract was trading at $4.211, but in the minutes that immediately followed the noon EST report the prompt-month contract shot up to $4.382, a three-month high for a front-month contract. The last time a prompt-month contract traded higher was when the September 2010 contract reached a high of $4.548 on Aug. 9.
However, the bullish optimism waned as market participants were faced with a four-day holiday weekend.
In the days leading up to the report, industry estimates ranged roughly from a build of 6 Bcf to a withdrawal of 7 Bcf, so the 6 Bcf reduction certainly fell on the bullish side of expectations. Citi Futures Perspective analyst Tim Evans, who had been expecting a 7 Bcf pull, said the report was "supportive" and acknowledged that it might offer a glimpse of what's to come in future reports once temperatures really get cold.
"The net withdrawal of 6 Bcf was supportive relative to the consensus expectation, although still less than the 13 Bcf five-year average withdrawal," he said. "This comparison with the five-year average may limit any bullish reaction, although the context could still be described as supportive, with cold in the temperature outlook promising more supportive storage withdrawals in the weeks ahead."
While bearish compared to the five-year average draw of 13 Bcf, the actual 6 Bcf draw was supportive compared to last year's date-adjusted 5 Bcf build.
As of Nov. 19, working gas in storage stood at 3,837 Bcf, according to EIA estimates. Stocks are now only 2 Bcf higher than last year at this time but still 334 Bcf above the five-year average of 3,503 Bcf. For the week the East Region led the withdrawal charge by removing 10 Bcf, while the Producing and West regions injected 3 Bcf and 1 Bcf, respectively.
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