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April natural gas slips as market looks beyond storage erosion, cold weather

A storage report that outlined a smaller-than-anticipated pull from stocks for the week to March 16 helped April natural gas futures decline Thursday, March 22. The contract settled 2.1 cents lower at $2.617/MMBtu.

The U.S. Energy Information Administration reported a net 86-Bcf withdrawal from natural gas inventories that was below the consensus estimate that called for a 90-Bcf drawdown from stocks and was mixed against respective year-ago and five-year average withdrawals of 137 Bcf and 53 Bcf.

The pull brought total U.S. working gas supply to 1,446 Bcf, or 667 Bcf below the year-ago level and 329 Bcf below the five-year average storage level of 1,775 Bcf.

If storage withdrawals match the five-year averages in the remaining two weeks of the withdrawal season, which traditionally ends March 31, inventories would end below the EIA's previous estimated end-of-season supply of 1,406 Bcf.

While the closely monitored deficit to the five-year average widened with the latest storage pull, market participants are looking beyond the withdrawal season and lingering cold weather and are focused on spring warming.

Midrange weather forecasts reflecting stubborn cold suggest the possibility of residual heating demand in the coming weeks, but higher low temperatures implied by the calendar and a warming trend projected further out spell diminishing weather-driven demand support going forward.

The latest National Weather Service outlooks show below-average temperatures spanning most of the West and about half of the west-central U.S. in the six- to 10-day period before the cooler weather shifts and expands eastward to envelop portions of the Rockies and a majority of the country's eastern two-thirds in the eight- to 14-day period.

Average to above-average temperatures that initially encompass the West Coast and the bulk of the central and eastern U.S. eventually become contained to the balance of the South and most of the West.

For April through June, The Weather Company sees warmer-than-normal weather over the southern tier of the U.S. accompanied by colder-than-normal conditions over the northern Plains and Northwest, while the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration anticipates warmer-than-normal weather over much of the country and equal chances of below-average, normal or above-average temperatures over the Pacific Northwest and the north-central U.S.

Warmer weather should sap lingering heating demand ahead of the onset of significant cooling load, allowing for the transition from weekly storage withdrawals to injections.

Market prices and included industry data are current as of the time of publication and are subject to change. For more detailed market data, including power, natural gas index prices, as well as forwards and futures, visit our Commodities pages.