Natural gas futures bounded higher Thursday after the release of government storage figures showing a build that was far less than what traders were expecting.
The injection of just 24 Bcf was lower than market surveys and below independent analyst projections. For the week ended April 11, the Energy Information Administration (EIA) reported an increase of just 24 Bcf in its 10:30 a.m. EDT release. May futures rose to a high of $4.717 shortly after the number was released, and by 10:45 a.m., May was at $4.713, up 18.3 cents from Wednesday's settlement.
Prior to the release of the data, analysts were looking for a build just below 40 Bcf. A Reuters survey of 22 traders and analysts revealed an increase of 34 Bcf with a range of 22-44 Bcf. IAF Advisors of Houston forecast a build of 38 Bcf, and Ritterbusch and Associates anticipated an injection of 27 Bcf. Bentek Energy's flow model calculated a gain of 35 Bcf. Last year, 25 Bcf was injected, and the five-year average increase for the week is 37 Bcf.
"I had heard a number of around 34 Bcf, and I can tell you that just before the number was released the market jumped from $4.52 to $4.64; as soon as we are looking up and we see the market rallying, boom, the number comes out," said a New York floor trader. "The volume in the spot May contract jumped by 40,000 contracts in the last 15 minutes."
Tim Evans of Citi Futures Perspective called the figure "a bullish surprise. It was also less than the 37 Bcf five-year average, adding to the year-on-five-year average storage deficit. It's not clear whether it was stronger demand or weaker supply behind the number, but it's possible that late-season heating demand is holding up better than expected."
Inventories now stand at 850 Bcf and are 850 Bcf less than last year and 1010 Bcf below the five-year average. In the East Region 6 Bcf was injected and the West Region saw inventories up by 8 Bcf. Inventories in the Producing Region rose by 10 Bcf.
The Producing region salt cavern storage figure increased by 8 Bcf from the previous week to 76 Bcf, while the non-salt cavern figure rose by 2 Bcf to 295 Bcf.