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By John Kell

NEW YORK–Natural-gas futures climbed to

a four-week high as traders focused on forecasts calling for another late-season cold snap and fretted about a potentially disappointing storage report due Thursday.
Natural gas for May delivery settled up 5.2 cents, or 1.2%, at $4.5860 a million British thermal units, the highest since March 11, on the New York Mercantile Exchange.
Lower-than-average temperatures in the U.S. are expected to persist over the next week or two, supporting the need for gas to heat homes.
Market observers appear divided over the ability of producers to replenish stockpiles that were depleted during the recent harsh winter. Energy-advisory firm Gelber & Associates said traders are “trying to make sense of tomorrow’s storage report, expected to be the first injection of the season.”

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A survey of 20 analysts by The Wall Street Journal predicted the report would show 13.75 billion cubic feet of natural gas were added to storage last week.
The Energy Information Administration said Tuesday that it expects natural-gas supplies to be at 3.422 trillion cubic feet by the end of October, a nine-year low. The five-year average for the last week of October is 3.832 trillion cubic feet.
“We need to do an incredible job to get storage anywhere close to where it needs to be at the end of the refill season,” said Phil Flynn, an analyst at brokerage Price Futures Group. “We have never produced this much natural gas ever.”
Some have expressed concern that gas prices remain too low to persuade producers to pump enough gas this spring and summer to refill storage. Meanwhile, a hot summer could ramp up demand for natural gas from power plants that use the fuel to generate the electricity needed to run air-conditioning units.
Gelber & Associates said while average injections won’t push natural-gas prices to $5 per million British thermal units, “the longer the market goes without seeing bearish drivers revealed in the storage reports, the more of a premium for natural gas.”

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contract falls 0.9 cent to $4.4020/MMBtu
–April options expired Wednesday; April futures expire Thursday
–Analysts expect 54-bcf supply draw, leaving inventories 50% below normal

(Adds cash chart at bottom.)

By Christian Berthelsen

Natural-gas futures slipped for the fourth time in five sessions Wednesday as the market awaits weekly U.S. government inventory data on Thursday.
Prices for the front-month April contract lost 0.9 cent to settle at $4.4020 a million British thermal units on the New York Mercantile Exchange. Options on the April contract expired Wednesday, and April futures go off the board Thursday. Most of the volume in the market has moved to the May contract, which fell 1.9 cents to settle at $4.395/MMBtu.
Analysts and traders surveyed by The Wall Street Journal expect

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natural-gas stockpiles to fall by 54 billion cubic feet in the data to be released Thursday at 10:30 a.m. by the U.S. Energy Information Administration. If the projection is accurate, it would leave stored inventories at 899 billion cubic feet, about 50% below the year-ago and five-year average levels for this time of year, after a severe winter season that has prompted strong heating-related demand and dragged supplies to their lowest levels in more than a decade.
Weather outlooks for the near-term and extended forecasts were little changed Wednesday, which may explain the limited price action in the market. The markets were flat Wednesday, but that may be a one-day anomaly, said Teri Viswanath, senior natural-gas strategist for BNP Paribas SA. There currently is no premium on prices for next winter’s contracts, even though low storage levels now could lead to short supply in a few months, Ms. Viswanath said.
“We think it’s going take more than one (production) season to swing the market into equilibrium,” she said.

FUTURES SETTLEMENT NET CHANGE
Nymex April $4.402 -0.9c
Nymex May $4.395 -1.9c
Nymex June $4.424 -1.9c

CASH HUB RANGE PREVIOUS DAY
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Katy $4.31-$4.385 $4.365-$4.42
SoCal $4.68-$4.76 $4.45-$4.85
Tex East M3 $4.25-$4.80 $5.20-$7.50
Transco 65 $4.3325-$4.39

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By Nicole Friedman and Christian Berthelsen

Analysts and traders expect government data scheduled for release Thursday to show natural gas inventories fell by more than typical levels for this time of year.
The U.S. Energy Information Administration is expected to report that 229 billion cubic feet of gas were withdrawn from storage during the week ended Feb. 7, according to the average forecast of

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19 analysts and traders surveyed by The Wall Street Journal.
The EIA is scheduled to release its storage data for the week on Thursday at 10:30 a.m. EST.
For the Feb. 7 week, the median estimate is for a fall of 228 bcf. Estimates range from a fall of 255 bcf to a decline of 205 bcf.
The estimate for Feb. 7 is above last year’s 152-bcf draw from storage for the same week, and more than the 162-bcf five-year average withdrawal for that week.
If the storage estimate is correct, inventories as of Feb. 7 will total 1.694 trillion cubic feet, 34% below the exceptionally high year-ago level and 27% below the five-year average for the same week.

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– Above-normal temperatures headed for Midwest, Northeast
– Market keeping eyes on two potential cyclones
– Expected inventory gains could curb gains
By David Bird
NEW YORK–Natural-gas futures prices settled 1.7% higher Wednesday amid forecasts for a switch to above-normal temperatures in key consuming regions.
Lingering below-normal temperatures have idled air conditioners and reduced demand for gas-fired electricity across the Midwest and the Northeast, pressuring gas prices for several weeks. Now forecasts call for above-normal temperatures in the regions over the next six to 10 days, triggering a late-season price jump in what’s been a weak summer-demand season for gas.
At the same time, traders are keeping watch on two low-pressure areas that have high chances of becoming tropical cyclones in coming days.
Meanwhile, the moderate temperatures have allowed gas inventories to increase by higher-than-usual levels, a trend that is expected to be affirmed by U.S. inventory data due out Thursday. Another large increase could pit rising stockpiles against weather issues for dominance in setting the near-term market trend.
Natural gas for September delivery on the New York Mercantile Exchange settled 5.7 cents, or 1.7%, higher at $3.342 per million British thermal units.
“I’d call this a rebound, not a rally. I am skeptical how far it can continue,” said Kyle Cooper, analyst at IAF Advisors. “Demand is going lower from here, not higher” and the summer-demand season draws to a close, he said.
Weekly inventory data from the Energy Information Administration is expected to show stocks rose by 71 billion cubic feet in the week ended Aug. 9, according to a survey of 16 analysts and traders by Dow Jones Newswires. That’s well above the year-ago increase of 20 bcf and the five-year average gain of 42 bcf for the same week.
An injection of that size would put stocks at 3.012 trillion cubic feet, down 7.6% from a year earlier and 1.6% above the five-year average. Last week, EIA data for the week ended Aug. 2 showed inventories topping the five-year average for the first time since March.
The National Hurricane Center forecasts that two tropical cyclones may be forming in coming days. An area of low pressure in the northwest Caribbean is moving toward the Yucatan Peninsula and the southern Gulf of Mexico and has a 60% chance of becoming a tropical cyclone in the next 48 hours and a 70% chance in the next five days. Another low-pressure system, off Cape Verde, has a 70% chance of becoming a tropical cyclone in next five days.
Analysts note that with rising natural-gas production from onshore shale-oil fields, only 6% of U.S. output comes from fields in the Gulf of Mexico now, compared with 19% in 2005.
Mr. Cooper noted that a tropical storm in the Gulf Coast region, short of damaging production facilities for an extended period, could be bearish for the market, as it could further cut demand for gas-fired power. “It could take out demand, not supply,” Mr. Cooper said, noting rain would cool temperatures, while strong winds could cause power outages to homes and businesses.
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By Dan Strumpf
Analysts and traders expect government data scheduled for release Thursday to show a bigger-than-average increase in natural gas inventories, as milder summer temperatures have curbed demand for gas-fired electricity demand.
The U.S. Energy Information Administration is expected to report that 57 billion cubic feet were added to storage during the week ended July 26, according to the average prediction of 18 analysts and traders in a Dow Jones Newswires survey.
The EIA is scheduled to release its storage data Thursday at 10:30 a.m. EST.
The survey’s median result was for an injection of 59 bcf, with a high estimate of a 66-bcf build and a low of a 49-bcf addition.
The storage estimate comes in above last year’s 28-bcf injection to storage for the same week and is also greater than the 47-bcf five-year average injection for that week.
If the storage estimate is correct, inventories as of July 26 will total 2.843 trillion cubic feet, about 1% below the five-year average and 12% below last year’s level for the same week.
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–Natural-gas futures settle 14.2 cents, or 4.3%, higher at two-week high of $3.462/mmBTU

–Inventory drops 82 bcf versus an estimate of a 75 bcf decline, EIA said
–Colder end-of-year temperature outlook lifts prices
By David Bird
 
NEW YORK–Natural-gas futures prices rose 4.3% to settle a two-week high Thursday on a larger-than-expected drop in inventories and forecasts for colder end-of-year temperatures.
Despite the 14.2-cent rise, which was the largest single-day gain since Dec. 5, prices remained in the upper end of a two-week trading range. January-delivery natural gas settled Thursday at $3.462 per million British thermal units.
Prices have been pinned between $3.25-$3.52/mmBtu lately as lofty storage has battled fluctuating temperatures in holding sway over the market.
“Since Thanksgiving, the forecasts have promised cold, but it’s never developed,” said Kyle Cooper, managing partner at IAF Advisors. The latest projections for colder temperatures in the Midwest and Eastern U.S. in the final days of December and early January may have less impact on demand than expected, because many industrial plants and commercial buildings close for the holidays.
Storage figures released by the Energy Information Administration were only bullish when compared with analysts’ expectations, and were bearish compared with historical norms, traders said.
The EIA said gas inventories dropped by 82 billion cubic feet last week, compared with expectations of a 75-bcf decline. But the drop was less than the 100-bcf decline recorded in the same week a year earlier and was below the five-year average drop of 144 bcf.
At 3.724 trillion cubic feet, gas inventory is at the highest mid-December level on record. Stocks are 1.8% above a year-earlier, and 10.2% above the five-year average.
Mr. Cooper said he expects next week’s inventories data to show a drop of just 60-65 bcf, or less than half of the five-year average decline of 140 bcf.
Winter-weather projections from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration on Thursday offered little guidance for traders.
Much of the continental U.S. doesn’t show a clear temperature pattern in January, NOAA said, indicating equal chances of normal, above-normal or below-normal temperatures in the first full month of winter.
Below-normal January temperatures are likely in a five-state region centered on North Dakota, while above-normal temperatures are expected in Arizona and New Mexico and extending into border areas of neighboring states.
In its January-March outlook, NOAA shows the area of above-normal temperatures is centered in west Texas, but extends across much of the southern half of the nation and as far north as North Carolina.
The immediate East and West coasts and the Florida peninsula are exceptions to the above-normal temperature outlook and are given an “equal chances” designation. Below-normal temperatures in the first quarter of 2013 are likely confined to Montana and North Dakota, with the remainder of the nation given the equal-chances designation.
Jim Ritterbusch, president of Ritterbusch & Associates, said he doesn’t see the current weather forecasts being enough to hold prices much above the $3.50/mmBtu level in the near term.
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