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May gas futures drift ahead of storage report release

Afterending its first day in the lead role up 1.5 cents at $1.996/MMBtu onWednesday, the fresh front-month May natural gas futures contract toyed withgains and losses overnight ahead of the Thursday, March 31, open, and themidmorning release of the weekly storage data, as still-robust inventoriesreturn pressure to the market alongside ongoing midrange weather support.Trading from $1.985/MMBtu to $2.010/MMBtu, the front-month contract was lasteyed 0.4 cent higher at $2.000/MMBtu.

TheU.S. Energy Information Administration is slated to release its weeklyinventory report at 10:30 a.m. ET on Thursday that is expected to show a briefreturn to storage withdrawals for the review week ended March 25.

culled from a surveyof traders and analysts suggest a pull from stocks from 16 Bcf to 33 Bcf, withconsensus formed at a 24-Bcf drawdown. This will compare against a 22-Bcffive-year-average withdrawal and a 10-Bcf draw seen in the corresponding weekin 2015.

Theweek's data would follow an aberrant net 15-Bcf injection to storage reported by the EIA for theweek to March 18 that took overall inventories to 2,493 Bcf, or 1,017 Bcf abovethe year-ago level and 846 Bcf above the five-year average of 1,647 Bcf.

Astorage draw at the consensus figure would trim total natural gas stocks to2,469 Bcf, just below the record-high end-of-season inventory of 2,473 Bcfreached on March 31, 2012.

Withjust one week remaining in the titular withdrawal season and outlooks callingfor an injection in the week to April 1, inventories could make a freshend-of-season record high.

Althoughweather forecasts continue to signal a mix of lingering heating and earlycooling demand in the coming weeks, hefty inventories remain indicative of anincongruent supply/demand balance that is keeping bearish sentiments intact inthe market.

TheNational Weather Service continues to see below-average temperatures holdingover the bulk of the country's eastern third through the upcoming six- to10-day period, separated by an area of average temperatures spanning a fewportions of the central U.S. and South from the wide swath of above-averagetemperatures blanketing the western half of the U.S.

Below-averagetemperatures slightly shrink in scope but remain dominant across the Eastfurther out to the eight- to 14-day period, as above-average temperaturesovertake more of the central U.S. Average temperatures linger over a narrowband in the midsection of the Midwest and parts of the Southeast.

Whiledemand support implied by the weather projections could work off excess supply,a more substantial uptick in demand is needed to tighten the market balance.

Incash trading, weather-driven demand support encouraged the upside to prevail inprice activity for natural gas moved Wednesday for Thursday flow.

Atthe key delivery locations, a near 13-cent gain drove Chicago spot gas pricesto an index at $1.983/MMBtu, as a better-than-10-cent increase took benchmarkHenry Hub day-ahead gas pricing to an index at $1.874/MMBtu and an uptick of alittle more than 5 cents steered PG&E Gate cash gas price activity to anindex at $1.950/MMBtu. Running against the uptrend, a downdraft of more than 23cents goosed Transco Zone 6 NY hub action to an index at $1.260/MMBtu.

Regionally,Midwest cash gas pricing rose by almost 11 cents on the session in dealsaveraging at $1.798/MMBtu, as Gulf Coast next-day gas price activity advancedby nearly 7 cents to an index at $1.806/MMBtu. West Coast spot gas price actionclimbed by about 8 cents in trading to average at $1.662/MMBtu, as Northeastday-ahead gas prices tumbled by roughly 19 cents on average against the wideruptick to an index at $1.468/MMBtu.

Marketprices and included industry data are current as of the time of publication andare subject to change. For more detailed market data, including power andnatural gas indexprices, as well as forwards and futures, visitour Commodities Pages.