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NEW YORK: US natural gas futures edged up to a fresh two-week high on Thursday on forecasts for cooler-than-expected weather and a bigger-than-normal weekly storage draw. Those price gains, however, were held back because the storage decline was smaller than expected.

The US Energy Information Administration (EIA) said US utilities pulled 130 billion cubic feet (bcf) of gas from storage during the week ended Jan. 1. Analysts noted that draw was bigger than usual due to record liquefied natural gas (LNG) exports despite milder-than-normal weather so far this winter.

The decline was slightly lower than the 135-bcf draw analysts forecast in a Reuters poll and compares with a decrease of around 17 bcf during the same week last year and a five-year (2016-2020) average withdrawal of 125 bcf.

Front-month gas futures rose 1.3 cents, or 0.5%, to settle at $2.729 per million British thermal units, their highest close since Dec. 22 for a third day in a row. That put the front-month up for a fifth day in a row for the first time since August 2018.

Data provider Refinitiv said output in the Lower 48 US states averaged 91.9 billion cubic feet per day (bcfd) so far in January. That compares with an eight-month high of 91.5 bcfd in December 2020 and an all-time monthly high of 95.4 bcfd in November 2019.

Even though the weather remains milder than normal, temperatures were still expected to decline as we move into the coldest part of the year. Refinitiv projected that cold would boost average demand, including exports, from 121.2 bcfd this week to 126.3 bcfd next week.

The amount of gas flowing to US LNG export plants averaged 10.8 bcfd so far in January, which would top December's 10.7-bcfd record.