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CHICAGO: US natural gas futures edged up on Thursday to a fresh one-week high as the front-month contract rolled to the higher cost July delivery month and on forecasts for slightly more demand over the next two weeks than previously expected.

That price move came ahead of the release of a report expected to show last week's storage increase was bigger-than-usual because the amount of gas flowing to US liquefied natural gas (LNG) export plants declined for mostly seasonal maintenance.

Analysts forecast US utilities added 104 billion cubic feet (bcf) of gas into storage during the week ended May 21. That compares with an increase of 105 bcf in the same week last year and a five-year (2016-2020) average increase of 91 bcf.

If correct, last week's injection would boost stockpiles to 2.204 trillion cubic feet (tcf), which would be 3.2% below the five-year average of 2.278 tcf for this time of year.

On its first day as the front-month, gas futures for July delivery fell 2.9 cents, or 1.0%, from where the July contract closed on Wednesday to $2.998 per million British thermal units at 9:01 a.m. EDT (1301 GMT).

That was still up about 1% from where the June contract settled when it was the front-month, putting the new front-month on track for its highest close since May 18 for a second day in a row.

Data provider Refinitiv said gas output in the Lower 48 US states averaged 91.0 billion cubic feet per day (bcfd) so far in May, up from 90.6 bcfd in April. That, however, is still well below November 2019's monthly record of 95.4 bcfd. With milder weather on the horizon and the US Memorial Day holiday coming this weekend, Refinitiv projected average gas demand, including exports, would ease from 83.6 bcfd this week to 82.7 bcfd next week. Those forecasts were slightly higher than Refinitiv predicted on Wednesday.

The amount of gas flowing to US LNG export plants averaged 10.8 bcfd so far in May, down from April's monthly record of 11.5 bcfd. The decline was due to short-term issues and normal spring maintenance at a few Gulf Coast plants and the gas pipelines that supply them, including small reductions in feedgas to Corpus Christi in Texas and Cameron in Louisiana over the past couple of days.

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