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NEW YORK: US natural gas futures eased on Thursday as a slightly bigger-than-expected weekly storage build weighed on prices that had climbed to their highest since December in intraday trade. Prices were up most of the day on rising liquefied natural gas (LNG) exports and forecasts the weather will remain hot through late August, keeping air conditioners humming.

The US Energy Information Administration (EIA) said US utilities injected 33 billion cubic feet (bcf) of gas into storage in the week ended July 31. That is a little higher than the 30 bcf analysts forecast in a Reuters poll and compares with an increase of 58 bcf during the same week last year and a five-year (2015-19) average build of 33 bcf.

The increase boosted stockpiles to 3.274 trillion cubic feet (tcf), 15.1% above the five-year average of 2.845 tcf for this time of year. By the end of the injection season in October, analysts expect US inventories will reach a record high over 4.1 tcf.

Front-month gas futures fell 2.6 cents, or 1.2%, to settle at $2.165 per million British thermal units. With hot weather expected to return, data provider Refinitiv projected US demand, including exports, will rise from an average of 88.5 billion cubic feet per day (bcfd) this week to 90.6 bcfd next week. That is a little lower than Refinitiv's outlook on Wednesday as higher gas prices cause power generators to burn more coal instead of gas.