October natural gas is expected to open unchanged at $3.82 as traders see both a soft fundamental and weak technical picture.

Analysts see the only route to higher prices is limiting inventory builds, but that looks to be at least three weeks away.

Tim Evans of Citi Futures Perspective calculates 92 Bcf increase for Thursday’s storage report but beyond that he sees triple-digit builds dropping the year-on-five-year deficit from its current 444 Bcf to 312 Bcf by Oct. 10. “Expectations for Thursday’s DOE storage report for the week ended Sept. 19 are still in flux, but the consensus may have drifted somewhat higher in the past 24 hours from 95 Bcf up to 97 Bcf in net injections. Our model features a slightly smaller 92 Bcf build, but that would still look bearish compared with the 79 Bcf five-year average refill,” he said in closing comments Tuesday to clients.

“This declining year-on-five-year average deficit confirms the market is becoming better supplied on a seasonally adjusted basis, which we consider as downward fundamental pressure on prices,” Evans said. “We continue to view these large seasonal storage builds as consistent with a break to new lows in price, with the natural gas market having a much better chance at a seasonal rally once heating demand picks up to a level that starts limiting builds.”

Looking at the math, the question out there is will inventories less than last year be enough to cope with another 3 Tcf winter draw. Natural gas inventories currently stand at 2,891 Bcf, and by all accounts robust injections going forward are anticipated. With seven weeks left in the traditional inventory-building season an assumed 95 Bcf average weekly build brings ending supplies to 3,556 Bcf. Add a couple of more weeks into November at say a 90 Bcf average overall and the industry enters the heating season with 3,701 Bcf.

Last year season-ending inventories tallied 3,816 Bcf.

Evans suggests working an order to buy November on a limit order at $3.73 then working an initial protective sell stop at $3.48 to limit losses on the trade.

In overnight Globex trading November crude oil rose 9 cents to $91.65/bbl and November RBOB gasoline fell a cent to $2.4950/gal.