As traders and analysts awaited a full accounting from the latest government inventory data of last week’s deep freeze, natural gas futures were up slightly early Thursday. The April Nymex contract was up 1.0 cent to $2.805/MMBtu at around 8:50 a.m. ET.
This week’s Energy Information Administration (EIA) storage inventory report, scheduled for 10:30 a.m. ET, will help the market to gauge the supply/demand impacts of the intense polar blast that drove record-setting price spikes in the physical market last week.
Estimates have been wide ranging, reflecting the difficulty in assessing the widespread power outages that impacted gas production, pipelines, plants, storage facilities and other infrastructure.
A Bloomberg survey of eight analysts produced estimates ranging from a draw as low as 301 Bcf to one as steep as 350 Bcf, with a median pull of 334 Bcf. A Wall Street Journal poll had a tighter range of predictions, with an average draw of 334 Bcf. NGI’s model projected a much smaller draw of 287 Bcf.
“This is a nearly impossible draw to predict due to last week’s record-setting Arctic blast that wreaked havoc on the energy sector over Texas and the Southern Plains,” NatGasWeather said. “While frigid over the Midwest, Plains and Texas, it was also colder than normal over the West and East, with only Florida seeing above normal conditions. Our data says to expect a draw of 365-372 Bcf, which is much higher than expectations.”
The magnitude of this week’s reported withdrawal, covering the week ended Feb. 19, is likely to far exceed historical norms. Last year, EIA recorded a 145 Bcf withdrawal for the period, while the five-year average is a withdrawal of 120 Bcf.
As for the overnight weather data, NatGasWeather observed heating degree day gains from both the American and European models, with the European now advertising a colder outlook compared to its counterpart, particularly for the March 5-9 period.
The latest European model run “isn’t bullish, it’s just not as bearish as the rest of the weather data,” the firm said.
With the March contract now off the board, NatGasWeather said it will be looking closely to see how prices trade following the EIA report, which it called “one of the most anticipated of the past several years.”
Meanwhile, Wood Mackenzie analyst Joe Bernardi said in a note to clients early Thursday that the firm was “still seeing production come in stronger each day” in the aftermath of last week’s freeze-offs. However, “this comes with the usual caveats regarding future revisions.”
Looking ahead, the firm’s meteorologists have revised their forecast for the West, showing colder temperatures for this weekend in California trending close to seasonal norms.
“The Rockies are still expected to be colder than normal this weekend, with snow across much of the region,” Bernardi said. “We had seen some freeze-offs there last week — much milder than the record Texas and Midcontinent freeze-offs — but the impacts from the Rockies freeze-offs had essentially dissipated by the start of this week.”
April crude oil futures were up 4 cents to $63.26/bbl at around 8:50 a.m. ET, while March RBOB gasoline was off about 1.1 cents to $1.8850/gal.
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