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May Expires Quietly, But Fresh Storage Data Could Create a Spark

Appearing to be pretty comfortable with the current price level, natural gas futures traders nudged the expiring May contract around a 6.5-cent range on Wednesday before it went off the board at $4.377, down a penny from Tuesday's regular session finish. June futures didn't display much more oomph as what is now the new front-month contract closed the day at $4.408, down 3.6 cents from Tuesday's close.

With May expiration out of the way, the attention of traders now turns to the storage situation, where recent injections have fallen far short of historical analogs. The Energy Information Administration will release data for the week ending April 22 on Thursday morning.

Jim Ritterbusch, of Ritterbusch and Associates, said he envisions the "big daily move" this week to develop on Thursday following the release of the weekly storage numbers. "We believe that a comparatively small injection of around 40-45 Bcf is likely discounted and that surprises are apt to fall toward the bearish side," he said. "Consequently, we suggest holding any short positions in the June contract in anticipation of an ultimate down move to around the $4.060 area."

Citi Futures Perspective analyst Tim Evans said the May expiration saw light volume, which he attributed to book squaring, as the market appears to be comfortable with its current price level.

"The market mostly seems to be accepting the current price level as an equilibrium, with no strong fundamental case for a shift in either direction."

On the storage front, Evans said the outlook continues to look "constructive" for prices "with a gradual swing toward what should be a small year-on-five-year average storage deficit."

However, Evans warns that market bears could receive some support for their case in the near term. "The bearish offset, at some point, would be a pickup in nuclear power generation as plants now undergoing refueling come back online," he said. "We estimate that natural gas has picked up 1.0-1.5 Bcf/d of demand during the refueling period relative to last year, when less capacity was shut."

Evans said he is expecting a 31 Bcf build, while Bentek Energy is on the record for a 40 Bcf injection and a Reuters survey of 27 industry players produced a build range of 28 Bcf to 88 Bcf with an average expectation of a 41 Bcf addition.

Bentek said its 40 Bcf prediction would bring inventories to 1,694 Bcf, which is 207 Bcf below the five-year high for the period. In its breakdown, the research and analysis firm expects a 22 Bcf addition in the East Region, a 14 Bcf addition in the Producing Region and a 4 Bcf addition in the West Region.

The number revealed Thursday at 10:30 a.m. EDT will be compared to last year's date-adjusted build of 82 Bcf for the week and the five-year average build of 65 Bcf.

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