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NEW YORK: US natural gas futures held near a two-week low for a third day in a row on Thursday as the market waits for direction from a federal report expected to show last week’s storage build was slightly bigger than usual.

Traders noted prices were down about 12% from a seven-year high last week as domestic demand for the fuel fell with the coming of milder weather and output slowly recovers from the damage caused by Hurricane Ida in the Gulf of Mexico.

Analysts forecast US utilities added 75 billion cubic feet (bcf) of gas into storage during the week ended Sept. 17. That compares with an increase of 74 bcf in the same week last year and a five-year (2016-2020) average increase of 70 bcf.

If correct, last week’s injection would boost stockpiles to 3.081 trillion cubic feet (tcf), which would be 6.9% below the five-year average of 3.311 tcf for this time of year.

Front-month gas futures were up 1.6 cents, or 0.3%, to $4.821 per million British thermal units (mmBtu) at 7:54 a.m. EDT (1154 GMT). On Wednesday, the contract held at its lowest close since Sept. 7 for a second day in a row.

A growing number of analysts now expect the United States will have enough gas in storage for the upcoming winter heating season when demand for the fuel peaks, but noted prices in New England and California will likely be much higher than the rest of the country.

That is due to gas pipeline constraints and a reliance on what is now very expensive liquefied natural gas (LNG) in New England and a severe drought, wildfires and an over-reliance on intermittent renewables without enough battery backup in California, which has forced the state to burn more gas to generate power this year.

Analysts said the storage situation was much worse in Europe, where prices have soared to record highs primarily because stockpiles in some countries were 20% or more below normal for this time of year.

With gas prices near record highs of around $24 per mmBtu in Europe and $27 in Asia, versus just about $5 in the United States, traders noted that buyers around the world were purchasing all the super-chilled gas the United States can produce.

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