The Energy Information Administration (EIA) reported Thursday morning that an all-time record 274 Bcf was withdrawn from natural gas storage for the week ended Jan. 25. Despite the eye-popping number, traders appeared to have already factored in such a draw as March natural gas futures traded a tight range before closing out the day at $8.074, up 2.9 cents from Wednesday.

After trading at $8 just prior to the 10:30 a.m. EST report, the prompt-month contract reached $8.02 in the minutes that followed before shrinking to $7.970 just before 11 a.m. Overall, the day’s range was a muted 13-cent range from $7.950 to $8.080.

“If you look at the various surveys, Dow Jones was looking for a 243 Bcf draw and Bloomberg saw a 258 Bcf pull. That said, one of the groups that the trade looks at is Bentek, which was calling for a 278 Bcf withdrawal,” said Ed Kennedy of Commercial Brokerage Corp. in Miami. “In other words, this 274 Bcf pull was expected and was already built in to the market.”

Kennedy reiterated that at this time of year, “weather is still king” for the natural gas futures market. “Even with the large withdrawal there is still sufficient gas in storage,” he said. “What people are paying attention to is the weather forecast and most outlets are calling for a warm February east of Chicago. No supply disruptions, plenty of gas in storage and an above-normal forecast add up to lower prices. If storage was critically low, this withdrawal would have been more of a story, but it isn’t.”

While last week’s rumors of a gut-busting 300 Bcf withdrawal proved to be lofty, the 274 Bcf withdrawal was still large enough to break the record. The pull was 14 Bcf larger than the all-time withdrawal record of 260 Bcf, which was recorded for the week ended Jan. 17, 1997. Heading into the report, a Reuters survey of 24 industry players produced an average withdrawal estimate of 258 Bcf. The actual 274 Bcf pull was significantly larger than last year’s withdrawal of 185 Bcf, which happens to be the five-year average pull as well.

Citigroup analyst Tim Evans classified the number as “bullish” but added that it would likely be a hard feat to repeat. “The draw was in the upper end of the range of expectations and should be supportive, dropping the year-on-five-year average surplus down to just 85 Bcf,” he said. “The market’s challenge, though, will be what can it do for an encore as the 11- 15-day forecast looks mild today. Last week was cold, but we knew that.”

As of Jan. 25, working gas in storage stood at 2,262 Bcf, according to EIA estimates. Stocks are 336 Bcf less than last year at this time and 85 Bcf above the five-year average of 2,177 Bcf. The East region — which was frigid last week — accounted for 145 Bcf of the withdrawal, while the Producing and West regions removed 89 Bcf and 40 Bcf, respectively.

This 274 Bcf draw will likely prove difficult to replicate next week. The National Weather Service for the week ended Feb. 2 predicts below-normal accumulations of heating degree days (HDD) for the large energy markets from New England to the Midwest. New England is expected to receive 236 HDD, or 46 fewer than normal , and New York, New Jersey and Pennsylvania are seen “enjoying” just 221 HDD, or 41 fewer than normal. The industrialized Midwest including Ohio, Indiana, Michigan, Illinois and Wisconsin is forecast to see 245 HDD, or 46 fewer than a normal tally for this time of year.

Citing Wednesday’s regular trading session, one New York floor trader noted that there appears to be “good selling in the $8.12 area,” which “started to collapse the market towards the second half of [Wednesday].” On Thursday, the prompt-month contract didn’t even get that high.

“Overall I am bearish. Prices might work a little higher, but then that’s it,” he said. “We are trading the March contract and overall the market feels heavy. I think you have to sell any strong rally.”

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