U.S. natgas futures up 2 pct, remain under Monday's 20-mth high
* Front month hit highest mark since August 2011 on Monday * Above-normal temperatures on tap for East Coast, South * Below-normal readings seen for most northern states * Coming Up: EIA natgas storage data Thursday By Eileen Houlihan NEW YORK, April 10 (Reuters) - U.S. natural gas futures jumped about 2 percent early on Wednesday, boosted by expectations for another late-season inventory withdrawal on Thursday but remaining below Monday's 20-month spot chart high. With milder, spring-like weather on tap for consuming regions of the nation, most traders expect more upside to be limited. But others remained cautious of the downside, noting plenty of spring power plant outages were helping to lift demand for gas-fired generation. Cold late-winter weather, above-average nuclear power plant outages and stronger price expectations helped drive gas futures up about 32 percent since mid-February. As of 9:18 a.m. EDT (1318 GMT), front-month May natural gas futures on the New York Mercantile Exchange were at $4.085 per million British thermal units, up 6.8 cents, or just under 2 percent. The contract rose to $4.18 on Monday, the highest mark for a nearby contact since August 2011. Forecaster MDA Weather Services called for above or much-above-normal temperatures in the Southeast in its one to five-day outlook, with below or much-below-normal temperatures across the mid-Continent. The latest National Weather Service six to 10-day forecast issued on Tuesday called for above-normal readings across the East Coast and in the South and below-normal readings across northern states. Nuclear outages totaled 22,100 megawatts, or 22 percent of capacity, down from 22,900 MW out on Tuesday, 25,000 MW out a year ago and a five-year average outage rate of 23,300 MW. INVENTORY DRAW ABOVE EXPECTATIONS AGAIN Last week's gas storage report from the U.S. Energy Information Administration showed domestic inventories fell in the prior week by 94 billion cubic feet, above Reuters poll estimates for a 91 bcf draw. It was the sixth time in seven weeks that the weekly withdrawal was above expectations. Domestic gas inventories of 1.687 trillion cubic feet are nearly 32 percent below last year's record high and more than 2 percent below the five-year average. Inventories fell below the five-year average for the first time since September 2011, a supportive sign, particularly with another draw expected this week. Early withdrawal estimates for Thursday's storage report range from 1 bcf to 46 bcf, compared with an 11-bcf build during the same week last year and a five-year average rise of 15 bcf for the week. Stocks look likely to end the heating season near 1.66 tcf, about 33 percent below last winter's record-high finish of 2.48 tcf and 4 percent below average. Baker Hughes data last week showed the gas-directed drilling rig count fell by 14 to a 14-year low of 375. The EIA on Tuesday trimmed its estimate for gas production growth in 2013, but still expects output to rise to a third straight record high.
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