U.S. natgas futures edge higher amid cool Northeast weather

Mon May 13, 2013 9:42am EDT
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* Front month still well below recent 21-month high
    * Weather mixed over the nation, cool early in week in East
    * Nuclear power plant outages remain above average

    By Eileen Houlihan
    NEW YORK, May 13 (Reuters) - U.S. natural gas futures edged
higher early on Monday, boosted by cool weather early this week
in consuming regions in the Northeast despite fairly mild spring
weather in most other parts of the nation.
    Most traders expect the cooldown in the East to be the last
stretch of heating demand after a long, cold winter put a huge
dent in inventories and a cool spring led to a slow start to the
injection season.
    But forecasts for milder weather in the coming days and
weeks should curb any more late-season heating demand before
heavy cooling kicks in, helping to increase weekly inventory
    Still, prices remain well under the recent 21-month high.
    As of 9:27 a.m. EDT (1327 GMT), front-month June natural gas
futures on the New York Mercantile Exchange were at
$3.947 per million British thermal units, up 3.7 cents.
    The contract hit a one-month low of $3.883 last week after
climbing to a 21-month high of $4.444 on May 1.
    The National Weather Service's latest six-to-10-day forecast
issued on Sunday called for above-normal temperatures along the
West Coast and in the Northeast and mid-Atlantic and
below-normal readings along the Gulf Coast stretching into the
Plains. Near-normal temperatures were expected for the remainder
of the nation.
    Nuclear plant outages totaled 20,400 megawatts, or 20
percent of U.S. capacity, up from 19,700 MW out on Friday,
17,600 MW out a year ago and a five-year average outage rate of
18,200 MW. 
    Last week's gas storage report from the U.S. Energy
Information Administration showed domestic inventories rose the
prior week by 88 billion cubic feet, above Reuters poll
estimates for an 83-bcf build, a year-ago gain of 30 bcf, and
the five-year average build of 69 bcf for that week.
    But inventories, which started the injection season about
three weeks later than expected due to the cold spring, are at
1.865 trillion cubic feet, more than 28 percent below last year
and 5 percent below the five-year average.

    Early injection estimates for this week's EIA report range
from 87 bcf to 108 bcf, versus a 56-bcf build in the same week
last year and a five-year average rise for that week of 83 bcf.
    Baker Hughes' data on Friday showed the number of
rigs drilling for natural gas in the United States slid by four
to an 18-year low of 350.