UPDATE 3-U.S. natural gas futures seesaw ahead of weekend
* Milder weather outlook keeps buyers cautious * Aggregate inventories remain high, weigh on sentiment By Joe Silha NEW YORK, March 1 (Reuters) - U.S. natural gas futures ended lower on Friday after a seesaw session, with prices pressured by some computer weather predictions that show milder weather ahead. Cold forecasts have helped drive the front contract up about 10 percent over the last two weeks. Traders also viewed Thursday's above-average weekly inventory decline as price-supportive, noting it was the second straight week in which the draw came in above expectations. Most expect another strong pull in next week's report. But despite some near-term cold, traders noted the extended outlook seemed to be moderating and few expect much upside in prices with winter winding down, storage still high and production flowing at or near a record peak. "In the last two or three days, weather models have been flipping around, but it looks like we're going to see the end of this cold snap over the next week or so. Prices could pull back if weather turns milder," said Steve Mosley at The SMC Report. Front gas futures on the New York Mercantile Exchange ended down 3 cents, or 0.9 percent, at $3.456 per million British thermal units, after trading between $3.44 and $3.52. For the week, the nearby contract gained 5 percent, its biggest weekly run up in six weeks. Prices have drawn support recently from utilities switching from coal to cheaper gas for power generation and from sizeable nuclear plant outages that have prompted more gas burn. Gas-fired units are typically used to offset any shut nuclear generation. MDA Weather Services noted that the six- to 10-day outlook had turned slightly warmer again from the central to eastern United States, but the private forecaster still expects a brief shot of cold air to hit the Midwest in the 11- to 15-day period. ABOVE-AVERAGE STORAGE DRAW U.S. Energy Information Administration data on Thursday showed domestic gas inventories fell last week by 171 billion cubic feet to 2.229 trillion. The weekly draw came in well above the five-year average drop for that week of 118 bcf and sliced 53 bcf from the surplus versus the five-year average, but traders noted storage is still relatively high at 308 bcf, or 16 percent, above that benchmark. Withdrawal estimates for next week's storage report range from 120 bcf to 160 bcf. Stocks fell by 92 bcf in the same week in 2012. The five-year average drop for that week is 107 bcf. Most analysts expect storage to end the heating season at about 2 tcf, or 16 percent above average but 19 percent below last winter's record-high finish of 2.48 tcf. OUTPUT STARTS TO SLOW? Baker Hughes data on Friday showed the gas-directed drilling rig count fell this week for the fourth time in five weeks, dropping by eight to 420.
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