After settling its debut session 9.6 cents lower at $3.802/MMBtu, February 2017 natural gas futures seesawed overnight in a $3.752/MMBtu to $3.857/MMBtu spread ahead of the Friday, Dec. 30, open and the New Year's holiday weekend. The front-month contract was last seen struggling near unchanged, 0.3 cent higher at $3.805/MMBtu.
The market is searching for fresh support to drive a sustained move in either direction, having not considered the latest upside miss from storage to be an impressive enough catalyst to maintain the recent upside rally.
Against consensus expectations calling for a 231-Bcf storage withdrawal for the week to Dec. 23, the market was surprised by the U.S. Energy Information Administration's report of a net 237-Bcf withdrawal from natural gas inventories.
The pull left the total U.S. working gas supply at 3,360 Bcf and with comparisons to the 80-Bcf five-year average withdrawal and a smaller 50-Bcf pull reported in the same week in 2015, the year-on-year storage shortfall was widened to 413 Bcf and the year-on-five-year-average surplus was reversed to a deficit of 79 Bcf.
Weather has also failed to drive a sustainable rally despite mid-range projections that call for below-average temperatures to dominate in the U.S. through both the six- to 10-day and eight- to 14-day periods.
Longer-range weather forecasts may be dragging the market lower as the potential for warming and a pullback in demand for natural gas heating could leave a healthy amount of natural gas in inventories at the close of the withdrawal season.
Natural gas' sensitivity to weather is likely to keep the market seesawing between gains and losses as volatility is fed by constant forecast revisions.
In day-ahead trade, participants moved a two-day product for Friday Dec. 30, and Saturday, Dec. 31, delivery, with revisions driven by the end of the month and the New Year's holiday, and prices supported by weather and demand outlooks.
At the hubs, an impressive 31.8-cent gain at Transco Zone 6 NY brought the index there to $4.058/MMBtu while Henry Hub added just 0.3 cent to $3.711/MMBtu. PG&E advanced 11.1 cents to $3.976/MMBtu, while Chicago gained 4.5 cents to an index at $3.631/MMBtu.
Regionally, the Northeast was 13.3 cents higher to an index at $4.280/MMBtu, Gulf Coast gains of 6.6 cents brought the index to $3.577/MMBtu, the Midcontinent market was 9.6 cents higher to $3.590/MMBtu, and prices in the West bounced 6.7 cents higher to $3.485/MMBtu.
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