While it wasn’t the mammoth withdrawal of the previous week’s report, the Energy Information Administration (EIA) reported Thursday morning that a hefty 200 Bcf was removed from underground natural gas storage for the week ended Feb. 1. The number — which was larger than some expected — supported the recent bullish move in natural gas futures. The March contract reached a high of $8.110 before settling at $8.102, up 10.8 cents from Wednesday’s close.
Just prior to the 10:30 a.m. EST report, the prompt-month contract was trading at $8.040. Immediately following the number March natural gas pushed up to $8.100 before retreating to the day’s low of $7.980. From there the contract put in a steady climb, recording the high on the day just prior to settlement.
“We saw a very anemic response to what should have been a bullish report. The industry was looking for a big number…and they got an even bigger number,” said Ed Kennedy of Commercial Brokerage Corp. in Miami. “Now the weather is expected to moderate here a bit, but we are looking at a double-edged sword. Forecasts are calling for above-normal temperatures out to mid-month, but colder than normal during the second half of the month. Is the glass half full or half empty…I’m not sure.
“Looking more near-term, we reached the upper end of the trading range and the selling was there,” he said. “It looks like the $7.500 to $8.250 range is going to continue to hold, so not much has changed.”
Citigroup analyst Tim Evans said that while the withdrawal was large, he was having trouble seeing any sort of follow-through in the weeks ahead. “The 200 Bcf draw was supportive relative to most expectations and the 177 Bcf five-year average but presents a similar problem to last week’s record 274 Bcf withdrawal: the market may not have similar supportive data to provide ongoing support in the weeks ahead.”
Traders may have seen the last of hefty withdrawals. Data from the National Weather Service for the week ended Feb. 9 anticipates lower heating requirement across a broad section of energy markets from Maine to Wisconsin. New England is expected to experience 200 heating degree days (HDD), or 78 fewer than normal, and New York, New Jersey and Pennsylvania should see just 189 HDD, or 69 fewer than a normal seasonal tally. Ohio, Indiana, Michigan, Illinois and Wisconsin are forecast to “bask” in 226 HDD, or 57 fewer than normal.
No one this time around was expecting another withdrawal like the previous week’s 274 Bcf. A Reuters survey of 20 industry players produced an average expectation that 184 Bcf would be removed from storage for the week, while Bentek Energy said its flow model indicated a 205 Bcf pull. The actual 200 Bcf draw was smaller than last year’s 219 Bcf withdrawal.
As of Feb. 1, working gas in storage stood at 2,062 Bcf, according to EIA estimates. Stocks are 317 Bcf less than last year at this time and 62 Bcf above the five-year average of 2,000 Bcf. The East region dropped 119 Bcf and the Producing and West regions withdrew 50 Bcf and 31 Bcf, respectively.
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