Despite forecasts of a significant winter weather event for later in the week, natural gas futures bulls took their foot off the accelerator on Wednesday as the week recorded its first prompt-month contract decline. After reaching a high of $5.558 just after 10 a.m. EST, March futures closed the day’s regular session at $5.419, down 3.5 cents from Tuesday’s finish.
The weakness in futures came as a surprise to some market watchers, especially because it occurred on the same day that a number of forecasters warned of a “monster snowstorm” Friday stretching from the central and northern Plains to the Atlantic Coast.
“Front-month futures gained 32.3 cents over the first two days of the week, but the momentum ran out on Wednesday,” said a New York broker. “The timing is a little curious with this epic cold and storm front staring us in the face. Some of the independent forecasters are saying this one could be worse than the one that hit the Mid-Atlantic in December. They’re saying the cold will likely stick around for a while, so we could see a return of the 200 Bcf storage draws down the road.”
AccuWeather.com forecasters said Wednesday the incoming winter system could deposit “disruptive snow” from Omaha, NE, to Chicago to Washington, DC, to New York City.
“The next storm taking aim at the Mid-Atlantic for the end of the week will be a big one, perhaps on par with the storm before Christmas,” said Alex Sosnowski, a meteorologist with AccuWeather.com. “However, this storm will be much more extensive, stretching from the central and northern Plains to the Atlantic Coast. This widespread winter storm will deliver back-breaking snow to some locations and blizzard conditions to others. A nightmare for ground and air travel is in the making into the weekend. An invasion of frigid air during and following this storm could set the stage for more troublesome snow and ice in many areas, including the South, as February progresses.”
Traders on Thursday will be paying special attention to Thursday’s release of fresh natural gas storage data. Industry expectations going into the report for the week ending Jan. 29 are for a withdrawal that is larger than the previous week’s 86 Bcf pull but much smaller than the two 200 Bcf-plus pulls recorded for the weeks ending Jan. 8 and Jan. 15.
Bentek Energy is projecting a withdrawal of 122 Bcf this week, which would bring inventory levels to 2,399 Bcf. The research firm expects an 84 Bcf draw in the East Region, a 23 Bcf draw in the West Region and a 15 Bcf draw in the Producing Region. Citi Futures Perspective analyst Tim Evans is calling for a 135 Bcf draw.
The number revealed at 10:30 a.m. EST Thursday will also be compared to last year’s date-adjusted 194 Bcf pull and the five-year average pull for the week of 177 Bcf.
Focus on the storage number will be somewhat greater due to last Friday’s positive report on gross domestic product (GDP), which might be a sign that industrials are starting to make a comeback. The Commerce Department reported that fourth quarter GDP increased by a stout 5.7%, well above the 4.7% analysts were expecting.
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