Natural gas futures traders were able to focus on more menial tasks Wednesday, such as sock drawer rearranging, as activity in the September contract was deemed to be “more than a little bit on the light side” by at least one participant. While putting in a respectable 15-cent range on the day, the prompt month lacked any real motivation on its way to a regular session close of $6.220, up 1.9 cents from Tuesday’s close.

After starting out at the day’s low at $6.115 and reaching $6.200 by 9:25 a.m. EDT, the prompt month spent the next five hours trading back and forth within a slim 7.5-cent range. While Wednesday’s activity was devoid of any real thrust in either direction, some market players said the bulls might still have another push in them.

“Wednesday’s session was about as boring as watching paint dry. The guys I sometimes call to bug for quotes who are normally very rushed had all of the time in the world to talk,” said a Washington, DC-based broker. “I think the market is still trying to make a little bit of a bullish move after the last little sell-off. We’ve been gradually trying to build a base out of this activity.”

He noted that the real question is why the recent blast of hot weather hasn’t translated into futures punching higher. “I don’t know if we are still absorbing all of the selling out there or whether there are a lot of people just sitting around and waiting for the right moment. It really is hot, not only in the Northeast, but also into the interior of the country and down into the South. So a large portion of the country is getting a lot of heat and the lack of a larger push to higher prices could be another sign of continued weakness. It seems people are moving some positions further out on the curve. On Wednesday, October, November and December futures were stronger than September.”

The October, November and December contracts did show more life than their counterpart, climbing by 5.7 cents, 9.4 cents and 9.6 cents, respectively, to close out the regular session at $6.452, $7.379 and $8.206.

With the recent heat wave, the broker noted that weather can “suck down” storage inventory very rapidly. “A prolonged heat period could pull enough storage out to put inventory levels back down into normal territory,” he said.

Addressing tropical storm activity, or the lack thereof, the broker said it appears that the market is in put up or shut up mode as time is running out on the season. “If the season doesn’t kick off now, the models are going to continue to be ratcheted down,” he said. “Forecasters are already cutting their prediction numbers for the Atlantic hurricane season.”

Despite the lack of storms, he said his firm’s position is still the one with horns. “Overall, the momentum is mildly bullish, but by no means would I be saying, ‘Back up the truck and start getting long.'”

The question — “How hot is it?” — will likely be partially answered Thursday morning as the Energy Information Administration (EIA) will release fresh storage information for the week ended Aug. 3. The widespread heat, which began in earnest last week, will likely make an appearance on the storage injection numbers in the form of reduced additions. A Reuters survey of 23 industry players produced a range of injection expectations from 40-65 Bcf with an average estimate of a 52 Bcf build. According to the EIA, on a date-adjusted basis last year’s report for the week revealed a 7 Bcf withdrawal, while the five-year average is a build of 45 Bcf.

Some of the top traders looking for near-term price guidance suggest keeping a sharp eye on longer-term weather forecasts. Jim Ritterbusch of Ritterbusch and Associates contends that Thursday’s storage figures “could prompt some modest price reactions, and we look for primary market focus through the rest of this week to be on the one- to two-week temperature forecasts.”

The National Weather Service (NWS) eight- to 14-day temperature outlook for Aug. 16-22 calls for above-normal temperatures throughout most of the country. Only Texas, Oklahoma, New Mexico, New England, the very tip of Florida and most of Washington and Oregon are expected to have normal temperatures. The southernmost tip of Texas is forecast to have below-normal temperatures.

MDA EarthSat has a similar interpretation in its 11- to 14-day outlook but calls for slightly cooler temperatures in New England. It also increases the area of normal temperatures to include the Southeast as well as northern Minnesota, northern Wisconsin and portions of North Dakota.

Ritterbusch sees temperatures eventually easing. “Although most of these forecasts are suggesting hot temps across a broad swath of the country, this week’s extreme heat is likely to subside and temperature deviations out into August don’t appear sufficient to induce a storage reduction, as was the case last summer. All in all, we expect continued choppy price behavior, but we remain reluctant to abandon our bearish stance and our associated expectations for fresh lows.”

The National Hurricane Center Wednesday afternoon reported that it is not monitoring any tropical activity in the Atlantic, Caribbean or Gulf of Mexico and reported no expectations of tropical cyclones in the next 48 hours.

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