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NEW YORK: US natural gas futures edged up to a fresh 16-week high on Thursday on forecasts for rising air conditioning demand and higher exports than previously expected.

That price increase came ahead of a federal report expected to show last week’s storage build was bigger than usual as the Memorial Day holiday and mild weather reduced gas demand.

Analysts forecast US utilities added 98 billion cubic feet (bcf) of gas into storage during the week ended June 4. That compares with an increase of 95 bcf in the same week last year and a five-year (2016-2020) average increase of 92 bcf.

If correct, last week’s injection would boost stockpiles to 2.411 trillion cubic feet (tcf), or 2.2percent below the five-year average of 2.466 tcf for this time of year.

Front-month gas futures rose 1.8 cents, or 0.6percent, to $3.147 per million British thermal units (mmBtu) at 8:53 a.m. EDT (1253 GMT), putting the contract on track for its highest close since Feb. 17 for a third day in a row.

Data provider Refinitiv said gas output in the Lower 48 US states averaged 91.8 billion cubic feet per day (bcfd) so far in June, up from 91.0 bcfd in May but still well below the monthly record high of 95.4 bcfd in November 2019.

With warmer weather on the horizon, Refinitiv projected average gas demand, including exports, would rise from 88.1 bcfd this week to 90.0 bcfd next week. Those forecasts were higher than Refinitiv forecast on Wednesday on expectations power generators would burn more gas to keep air conditioners humming and a rise in exports.

The amount of gas flowing to US LNG export plants slid to an average of 9.7 bcfd so far in June, down from 10.8 bcfd in May and the all-time high of 11.5 bcfd in April. Traders noted LNG feedgas to was down due to short-term maintenance at the Sabine Pass and Cameron export plants in Louisiana and some of the pipelines that provide them with fuel.

But with European and Asian gas prices both trading over $10 per mmBtu, analysts said they expect buyers around the world to keep purchasing all the LNG the United States can produce.

US pipeline exports to Mexico, meanwhile, averaged 6.5 bcfd so far in June, putting them on track to top May’s 6.2-bcfd record.