U.S. natgas futures near flat early; chilly forecast supports

Fri Mar 8, 2013 9:21am EST
 
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NEW YORK, March 8 (Reuters) - U.S. natural gas futures were
little changed in early trading Friday, with bullish inventory
data and fairly chilly weather forecasts for next week partly
offset by profit-taking ahead of the weekend and after strong
gains earlier this week.
    Cold late-winter weather has helped push the front contract
up nearly 13 percent in the last three weeks, turning the chart
picture more supportive as prices broke through some key moving
average and trendline resistance points.
    Traders also viewed Thursday's 146 billion cubic feet weekly
inventory decline as bullish, noting it was the third straight
week that the draw came in above market expectations.
    But while the near contract is up more than 3 percent this
week following a 5 percent rise last week, many technical
traders still need a front-month close above the 2013 high of
$3.645 per million British thermal units to turn bullish.
    At 9:10 a.m. EST (1410 GMT), front-month gas futures 
on the New York Mercantile Exchange were down 0.3 cent at $3.579
per mmBtu, after trading in a narrow range between $3.565 and
$3.599. The nearby contract hit a six-week high of $3.603 on
Thursday after the inventory report.
    After a brief late-week warm-up, traders noted there was
still some chilly weather in the extended forecast.
    The National Weather Service six- to 10-day and eight- to
14-day forecasts on Thursday continued to show below-normal
temperatures for most of the eastern half of the nation.    
    Gas prices have also drawn support from more utilities using
gas for baseload power this year and from sizeable nuclear plant
outages that have prompted more gas burn. Gas-fired units are
typically used to offset shut nuclear generation.
    But some traders expect further upside to be difficult with
winter winding down, storage still high and production flowing
at or near a record peak.
    While the weekly draw came in well above the five-year
average drop for that week of 107 bcf and sliced 39 bcf from the
surplus versus the five-year average, total storage of 2.083
trillion cubic feet is still relatively high at 269 bcf, or 15
percent, above that benchmark.
       
    Traders were waiting for the next drilling rig report from
Baker Hughes on Friday.
    The company's dry gas rig count has fallen in four of the
last five weeks and is hovering just above the 13-1/2 year low
hit in early November, but production has not slowed much, if at
all, from the record high posted last year.