After dropping to a new low for the move at $3.448 during Tuesday’s regular session, May natural gas futures were a little more reserved on Wednesday as traders debated the market’s next move. The prompt-month contract finished Wednesday’s regular session at $3.532, up 2.1 cents from Tuesday’s close.

“Trading was pretty unremarkable on Wednesday,” said a New York broker. “During the regular session we saw a puny 4.8-cent range between $3.499 and $3.547. Ranges that small don’t come along that often unless there really is absolutely nothing going on in the market. I think traders are keen on seeing what comes out of the natural gas storage report Thursday before making their next move.”

Citi Futures Perspective analyst Tim Evans said the bulls are still corralled by the plentiful supply urrently available. “The natural gas market is bobbing along near its recent new six-year lows, still beset by weak industrial demand, a weather outlook that fails to offset this weakness and a growing storage surplus,” he said Wednesday. “Natural gas may be able to take days off from trending lower here or there, but is still waiting for indications that production has dropped to levels that will tip the overall balance. With North American drilling activity down 43% from a year ago, the stage has been set for that to occur in the months ahead, but we envision a slow evolution of the fundamentals rather than the flip of a switch to turn bear market into bull.”

Turning attention to the storage report for the week ending April 17, Evans’ early estimate was for an injection of 40 Bcf. A Reuters survey of 23 industry players produced a narrow range of injection estimates from 29 Bcf to 49 Bcf with an average build expectation of 43 Bcf. Bentek Energy said its flow model indicates an injection of 51 Bcf, which would bring stocks 3.6% below the five-year high and 23% above the five-year average. The estimate assumes a 24 Bcf injection from the East region, a 20 Bcf injection from the Producing region and 7 Bcf contributed from the West region.

In addition to being stacked up against industry estimates, the number revealed by the Energy Information Administration Thursday morning at 10:30 a.m. EST will be compared to last year’s 25 Bcf build and the five-year average injection of 35 Bcf.

Ritterbusch and Associates’ Jim Ritterbusch said natural gas futures likely will have an easier time following petroleum futures lower than keeping up with any upside oil moves. June crude futures on Wednesday ended up gaining 30 cents to $48.85/bbl.

Tuesday’s price plunge by the May gas contract to a new low of $3.448 in electronic Globex trading did not go unnoticed either. “While we have emphasized fundamentals that remain decidedly skewed to the bearish side, we would also note the chart deterioration that was sustained via [Tuesday’s] downside move to below the $3.500 level,” Ritterbusch added.

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