June natural gas is set to open 4 cents higher Thursday morning at $2.95 as traders mull a trend developing of smaller increases in supply than a year ago. Overnight oil markets rose.

Traders will be taking a close look at the 10:30 a.m. EDT release of inventory data from the Energy Information Administration (EIA). Estimates of the weekly storage report are coming in just under last year’s 106 Bcf build but way ahead of the five-year average of 89 Bcf. With production growth limited and power generation requirements increasing relative to last year, it may be a difficult haul to match last year’s builds going forward.

Teri Viswanath, director of natural gas strategy at BNP Paribas, calculates an increase of 95 Bcf for the week ended May 15, “a level that falls far short of last year’s 106 Bcf injection. If verified, last week’s build would mark the first time this season that the storage injections have lagged year-ago levels. Thereafter, this trend (of weekly injections lagging behind last year) will likely continue as significant growth in the electric power demand sector limits restocking. Indeed, we expect that the industry will stock away 105 Bcf for the week ending May 22nd and 115 Bcf for the week ending May 29th, or a pace that falls short of last year’s 113 Bcf and 118 Bcf build, respectively.”

Industry consultant Genscape calculates a 99 Bcf build and said the estimate is “a composite of our pipeline model — which has a 100 Bcf injection — and our supply-demand model, which is coming in at 92 Bcf. The S-D model is based on production during the storage week having averaged 73.3 Bcf/d, while demand averaged an estimated 63 Bcf/d. A 99 Bcf injection would be slightly smaller than last year’s same-date injection of 106 Bcf. Current storage inventories are at 1,897 Bcf, a 752 surplus to last year’s record-low level, but still 38 Bcf behind the five-year average. Our preliminary estimate for next week’s announcement is at 109 Bcf injection.”

Other estimates include IAF Advisors at a 98 Bcf increase, Bentek Energy, utilizing its supply-demand model, with a 92 Bcf injection, and a Reuters poll of 22 traders and analysts showing a 97 Bcf average with a range of 92 Bcf to 104 Bcf.

In spite of recent price weakness, market technicians aren’t willing to call the recent high of $3.105 a market top. “Once again, $2.949-2.908 was tested. And once again the bears failed to produce a close beneath this zone,” said Brian LaRose, a market technician at United ICAP. “As a result, we are still unable to label $3.105 as a short-term top. Bears need to take out Wednesday’s low [$2.902] to trigger a deeper correction of the $2.443 to 3.105 advance. Bulls need to push through $3.105 to signal the trend is still up.”

In overnight Globex trading July crude oil added 61 cents to $59.59/bbl and July RBOB gasoline rose a penny to $2.0364/gal.