* Mostly above-normal temperatures seen for key regions
* Comfortable stockpiles, record production also weigh
By Joe Silha
NEW YORK, Nov 1 (Reuters) - U.S. natural gas futures ended lower on Friday for the fifth straight session, pressured by forecasts for mild weather that should slow demand, the day after a weekly inventory report came in slightly above consensus estimates.
The nearby contract, down 1.8 percent in the previous two weeks, finished the week down 5.2 percent as moderate forecasts through mid-November weighed on prices. It was the biggest weekly decline in two months.
“Weather forecasts turned warmer this week, and there’s no end in sight. And some private forecasts for November and December are also looking more bearish,” said Steve Mosley at The SMC Report in Arkansas.
Front-month gas futures on the New York Mercantile Exchange ended down 6.8 cents, or 1.9 percent, at $3.513 per million British thermal units, after trading between $3.508 and $3.578.
Despite recent weakness, technical traders said there was decent support in the $3.50 area, noting the front contract has tested and mostly held above that level for the last four weeks.
With stockpiles at comfortable levels and production flowing at a record-high pace, many traders remain skeptical of any upside, at least until some sustained cold kicks up demand.
Many traders viewed Thursday’s 38 billion cubic feet weekly inventory build as bearish, noting it came in above the Reuters poll estimate of 36.
But some noted it was well below last year’s gain of 66 bcf and the five-year average for that week of 57 bcf. It was the first time the weekly injection fell below the norm in six weeks.
U.S. Energy Information Administration data showed total gas inventories last week stood at 3.779 trillion cubic feet, 3.1 percent below last year’s record highs at that time but 1.6 percent above the five-year average.
Early injection estimates for next week’s storage report ranged from 33 bcf to 45 bcf. That would be above the 27 bcf build seen during the same year-ago week and slightly over the five-year average increase of 36 bcf for that week.
Baker Hughes on Friday reported that the gas drilling rig count fell this week for the first time in three weeks, dropping by 16 to 360.
The count has increased in 11 of the last 19 weeks, stirring talk that new pipelines and processing plants may be encouraging producers to pump more gas into an already well-supplied market.
EIA data on Thursday showed that gross gas production hit a record high in August, climbing to 74.82 bcf per day. Output in August was running about 2.3 bcfd, or 3.1 percent, above the same month last year.
In the ICE cash market, gas for weekend delivery at Henry Hub , the benchmark supply point in Louisiana, slid 11 cents to $3.46, but late Hub differentials firmed slightly to 4 cents under NYMEX from a 6-cent discount early Thursday.
Gas on Transco pipeline at the New York citygate rose 6 cents at $3.31 on the chilly Sunday-Monday outlook. Chicago was 18 cents lower at $3.88.
In the news, Spectra Energy said it placed the New Jersey-New York natural gas pipeline into service on Friday. Kinder Morgan’s Tennessee Gas Pipeline also added some capacity to the Northeast, with two new projects also in service as of Friday.
The new lines and service upgrades are seen tempering prices in the region as they could add nearly 2 bcf per day of previously stranded gas from the Marcellus Shale to the market.