Breaking away from crude for a second straight session, June natural gas futures Wednesday — one day ahead of expiration — traded within a slim 12-cent range before settling at $6.315, down 3.4 cents from Tuesday’s close. July natural gas settled at $6.372, down 1.4 cents.

While natural gas put in a fairly uneventful day, the petroleum futures complex used the day to explore significantly higher. July crude broke through the psychological $50/bbl level to hit a high of $51.60, before slipping in the afternoon to close at $50.98, which was $1.31 higher than Tuesday’s close. June heating oil and June unleaded gasoline increased by 4.13 cents and 2.5 cents, respectively, to settle at $1.4284/gallon and $1.4517/gallon.

“Even when crude was up $1.93 at its high point Wednesday, June natural gas was only up approximately a nickel,” a Washington, DC-based broker said. “Clearly, crude did not have the ability Wednesday to influence action in natural gas.”

He noted that natural gas is currently a very weak market, influenced by a weather picture that has been anything but supportive. He pointed out that there are broad areas of the country that are experiencing temperatures that are 10 degrees below average.

“I really think what we are looking at is a very well supplied natural gas market that doesn’t have anything to fear yet. It is boring to say it, but I still think the bottom end of the current range is just a little bit north of $6,” the broker said. “I think we will see a slow grind down there, especially because the rally we saw Wednesday in crude couldn’t spark anything in natural gas.

“While this thing can’t go downward forever, we are still at the point where I would say ‘the trend is your friend’ and it still looks like it is pointing towards the $6.10 range,” he said. As for the June contract’s expiration Thursday, the broker said he would expect to see some buying of the June and selling of the July if somebody hadn’t rolled already. “I don’t know how many people there are that were long the June contract to begin with who haven’t gotten out of it already.”

Advest Inc.’s Jay Levine reminded clients Wednesday that natural gas “is its own complex, and is it’s own worst enemy, as even crude rising at one point almost $2 and the products taking it to the hoop [Wednesday] did little to help” struggling natural gas.

On the support side prior to the Energy Information Administration’s (EIA) natural gas storage report release, Levine said he sees $6.255, followed by $6.195, $6.105, $5.95 and $5.75. On the up side, he sees $6.51, followed by $6.72 and then $6.955.

As attention turns to the EIA storage report to be released Thursday morning, many industry watchers expect a build similar to last year’s 88 Bcf injection. According to the Reuters survey of 18 industry players, natural gas storage levels are expected to increase by 90 Bcf in the EIA’s report for the week ended May 20. The ICAP-Nymex storage options auction, which runs from 3-4 p.m. EDT on Wednesday, revealed a consensus forecast of an 88.9 Bcf injection.

As of the last storage report, working gas levels were 223 Bcf higher than at the same time last year and 291 Bcf above the five-year average of 1,308 Bcf.

In addition to being compared to last year’s 88 Bcf build, the number that will be released on Thursday also will be measured against a five-year average build of 81 Bcf.

Looking ahead to the Memorial Day holiday weekend schedule, the energy markets on the New York Mercantile Exchange will close at 1 p.m. EDT on Friday (May 27) and will be closed for Access trading over the weekend and during the regular session Monday (May 30).

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