A “supportive” 75 Bcf natural gas storage build teamed with a small uptick in crude futures values to halt the August natural gas futures down-day streak at seven as the contract picked up 5.5 cents Thursday to close at $3.408.
Natural gas futures bulls were finally thrown a bone Thursday morning when the Energy Information Administration (EIA) reported that only 75 Bcf was injected into underground storage for the week ending July 3. The number — which was slightly smaller than most industry estimates — sparked a temporary rally in morning futures trade.
The August contract was trading at $3.403 in the minutes leading up to the report, but dipped to a low of $3.356 in the minute prior to the 10:30 a.m. EDT release. Immediately following the fresh inventory data, the contract turned higher, notching a high of $3.489 about 15 minutes after the report.
August crude futures also helped turn around gas futures, if only for a day. August crude’s downward streak was halted at six days on Thursday as the contract gained 27 cents to close at $60.41/bbl.
In addition to being supportive when held up against expectations, the 75 Bcf build was also deemed bullish in comparison with historical data. The injection marked the second consecutive build below historical counterparts. Last year for the corresponding week 89 Bcf was injected into underground storage and the five-year average build is 90 Bcf.
Citi Futures Perspective analyst Tim Evans also saw the report as “supportive” relative to expectations and historical data. “This reduces the year-on-five-year average surplus to 452 Bcf, the second weekly decline,” he said. “This implies that we may be seeing some impact from falling U.S. production and/or a lower level of LNG [liquefied natural gas] imports.”
The below-average injections are curious as cooling degree day (CDD) data from the National Weather Service shows cooling requirements to be below normal, and economic data such as last week’s dismal employment report show little encouragement that industrial demand for natural gas is about to increase anytime soon. For the week ending July 4 New England had just 15 CDD, or 15 fewer than normal, and New York, New Jersey and Pennsylvania had 37 CDD, or eight fewer than normal. The industrialized Midwest from Ohio to Wisconsin had just 24 CDD, or 24 fewer than normal.
The modest injections hint that the continuing slide in the number of rigs drilling for natural gas may be having an impact. Last Friday Baker Hughes reported the number of rigs drilling for natural gas tallied 688, an increase of one for the week but a whopping 851 fewer than a year earlier.
Julio Sera, a broker with Hencorp Becstone Futures LC in Miami, didn’t see much to talk about with regards to the report. “We didn’t break up or down too hard. Sure we made a new high at $3.489, but overall it did not do anything too interesting in my opinion. We were looking for a 76 Bcf build, so we just missed.”
Sera said he believes the market is just “sitting pretty” right now. “There is no real weather to speak of outside of Texas,” the broker said. “It is a little warmer than normal in a few areas around the country, but it is not that bad in the major consuming areas of the Northeast. I think the huge pullback in commodity prices this week has really kept a foot on the price of natural gas.”
Ahead of the report’s release a Reuters survey of 21 industry players produced an injection range of 71 Bcf to 100 Bcf with an average build expectation of 83 Bcf, while Bentek Energy’s flow model indicated an injection of 79 Bcf.
As of July 3, working gas in storage stood at 2,796 Bcf, according to EIA estimates. Stocks are now 601 Bcf higher than last year at this time. For the week the East region injected 60 Bcf while the Producing and West regions chipped in 12 Bcf and 3 Bcf, respectively.
Ahead of Thursday’s regular trading session, one floor trader wasn’t so sure how much downside room was left. “Basically down here in this range of $3.300 to $3.350 people are saying it’s a buy and can’t get much cheaper,” he said.
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