May natural gas is set to open unchanged Thursday morning at $4.53 as traders expect a government storage report to show increases that were about in line with long-term averages yet well short of levels needed to fully restore working gas inventories. Overnight oil markets slumped.

Estimates of the 10:30 a.m. EDT Energy Information Administration (EIA) storage report are generally in the 40 Bcf area, but analysts admit that forecasting the weekly storage numbers has been a tough row to hoe.

“None of our usual tea leaves point to a surprise this week, but EIA seems to be on it’s own path on that score,” said John Sodergreen, editor of Energy Metro Desk. (EMD) “Last week the market was at 15 Bcf to the EIA’s 4 Bcf. Sadly, last week’s misfire was nothing new. Actually, this year so far has been a challenge. Forecasters missed the EIA report number 12 out of 14 reports by between 5-15 Bcf. Five reports missed the market consensus by between 10-15 Bcf. Yikes.

“Last week’s inaugural build of the season was pretty lame, but it’s a start. This week, the build will likely be just south of 40 Bcf, much like next week. After that, three digits should probably make the scene. We think the EIA will be very close to a 40 Bcf build this week given last week’s painfully low report number.” The EMD survey showed a build of 37 Bcf.

Others were also close to that figure. A Reuters survey of 22 traders and analysts revealed an increase of 34 Bcf with a range of 22 Bcf to 44 Bcf. IAF Advisors of Houston forecasts a build of 38 Bcf and Ritterbusch and Associates anticipates an injection of 27 Bcf. Bentek Energy’s flow model calculates a gain of 35 Bcf. Last year 25 Bcf was injected and the five-year average increase is 37 Bcf.

Those in the physical side of the business are concerned over the low pace of injections. A Michigan marketer said storage was “the biggest wild card in our business right now. The longer it gets delayed, the months of August, September and October are going to get bid up, and you will see the pipelines full. You better hope it doesn’t get cold. This storage report has got me on edge. The builds people are talking about are way short of the 100-plus Bcf weekly that is going to be needed. It’s very frustrating.”

Cold, at least near term, doesn’t seem to be an issue. WeatherBELL Analytics in it morning 20-day forecast predicts below-normal heating requirements. In the six- to 10-day period it forecasts national heating degree days (HDD) will reach 42, well below last year’s 56 HDD, and also short of the 30-year average of 44.8. In the 11- to 15-day time frame; however, it is looking for 38.6 HDD, more than last year’s 27.3 HDD and more than the 30-year average of 29.3 HDD.

With futures more or less floundering in a narrow trading range, technical analysts are in something of a quandary. “Until resistance can be exceeded or support can be broken, we will be stuck in a technical no mans land,” said Brian LaRose, analyst at United ICAP. “To have us entertaining a long position, $4.749-4.757-4.794 will need to be exceeded. To have us entertaining a short position $4.324-4.292 will need to be broken. [We] suggest sitting on our hands or using this opportunity to sell front-month strangles or iron condors,” he said in closing comments to clients.

In overnight Globex trading May crude oil rose 17 cents to $103.93/bbl and May RBOB gasoline eased fractionally to $3.0402/gal.