July natural gas futures values declined for the fifth consecutive session on Wednesday, but some traders are expecting a late round of short-covering to take place ahead of the contract’s expiration on Friday. The prompt month dropped 11.8 cents Wednesday to finish at $3.761, while August crude shaved off 57 cents to close at $68.67/bbl.

Over the last five regular sessions, the July natgas contract has declined by 49.2 cents, but market watchers are unimpressed, noting that the recent drop hasn’t even come close to piercing the recent trading range’s downside.

“Sure we’ve strung a number of down days together, but it has not been an overwhelming move,” said a Washington, DC-based broker. “We haven’t even dropped a half dollar yet. Looking at the charts, I think we are still firmly range-bound. We are going to need either a good stretch of hot weather, some better economic news or some inflation. Better yet, a combination of all three might be necessary to break us out of this range. Using the August contract, the range has been $3.500 to $4.800 since back in mid-February, so this could be a tough nut to crack.”

The broker said she has basically tuned out the weekly storage reports because the outcome is basically assumed to be a foregone conclusion. “At this stage of the game it is pretty much a known fact that we have a lot of gas in the ground going into the winter, no matter what happens,” the broker said. “Unless we saw a shocking string…and I mean a long string…of really bullish [small] injections, I think storage levels are comfortable, which has already been factored into the futures market. Because it is already a known quantity, the reports are not much of an event. Sure we’ll move within the trading range depending on whether the report is deemed bullish or bearish, but it’s not going to get us out of that range, I don’t think.”

Looking at the recent weakness in the July contract, she said the contract might still go out with a bang on Friday. “It looks like some heat might finally be coming into the forecast and we’ve got the last trading day coming up for the July contract, so I think we might find some short-covering coming in at the end.”

Going into Thursday’s natural gas storage report for the week ending June 19, market watchers were less sure than they were earlier in the week that the industry would see its sixth consecutive triple-digit build.

Citi Futures Perspective analyst Tim Evans is still expecting a 103 Bcf build, but a Reuters survey of 21 industry traders produced a range of build expectations from 92 Bcf to 105 Bcf with an average expectation of a 99 Bcf addition. Bentek Energy’s flow model indicated an injection of 94 Bcf, which would bring stocks 4.4% above the five-year high and 22.2% above the five-year average. The research and analysis firm’s estimate assumes a 66 Bcf injection in the East region and a 15 Bcf addition in the Producing region with the West region chipping in 13 Bcf.

“An estimate of 94 Bcf is 10 Bcf higher than the midpoint of the daily storage range due to large injections reported in the weekly postings collected Monday afternoon,” Bentek said in its weekly storage note. “Numbers reported by TCO and Dominion pushed the East estimate higher, similar to previous weeks this season, but large injections reported by SONAT and SSC also pushed the Producing estimate above the daily range.”

The number revealed Thursday morning at 10:30 a.m. EDT will also be compared with last year’s 85 Bcf injection for the similar week and the five-year average build of 84 Bcf.

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