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US natural gas futures fell to a fresh five-month low on Thursday on a smaller than usual weekly storage draw and midday forecasts for less cold weather through the end of January than previously expected. The drop put the contract within a penny of its lowest close since 2016.
In the afternoon, meteorologists projected weather in the US Lower 48 states would turn colder than normal, but a little warmer than forecast earlier, from Jan. 19-22 and January 28-31.
Front-month gas futures for February delivery on the New York Mercantile Exchange fell 4.3 cents, or 2.0%, to settle at $2.077 per million British thermal units (mmBtu), their lowest close since August 5.
Gas prices have dropped about 29% since hitting an eight-month high of $2.905 per mmBtu in early November due to milder-than-usual weather. There are also expectations inventories will remain over the five-year average as near-record production enables utilities to leave more gas in storage, eliminating concerns about shortages and price spikes this winter.
The US Energy Information Administration (EIA) said utilities pulled 109 billion cubic feet (bcf) of gas from storage during the week ended January 10.
That was higher than the 95-bcf withdrawal analysts had forecast in a Reuters poll, but much lower than the five-year (2015-19) average reduction of 184 bcf for the period.
The decrease for the week ended Jan. 10 cut stockpiles to 3.039 trillion cubic feet (tcf), 5.2% above the five-year average of 2.890 tcf for this time of year. Data provider Refinitiv projected average demand in the Lower 48 states, including exports, would jump to 133.1 bcfd next week from 113.7 bcfd this week. That is lower than Refinitiv's forecast on Wednesday of 136.4 bcfd for next week, due to less cold weather and lower LNG exports.
Gas flows to LNG export plants fell to a two-week low of 7.0 bcfd on Wednesday from 7.7 bcfd on Tuesday due to a decline at Cheniere Energy Inc's Sabine Pass export plant in Louisiana, according to Refinitiv data. That compares with an average of 8.2 bcfd last week and an all-time daily high of 8.8 bcfd on January 11.

Copyright Reuters, 2020