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NEW YORK: US natural gas futures slipped about 2% on Friday on forecasts for less demand next week than previously expected, a small increase in output, a small decline in global gas prices and forecasts calling for the US weather to remain mild through the end of October.

Prices fell despite forecasts for a big increase in heating demand in two weeks and a slow but steady rise in US liquefied natural gas (LNG) exports as utilities in Europe scramble to fill gas inventories before the winter heating season.

The situation in the United States, which is expected to have more than enough gas in storage for the winter, is much calmer. Even so, US oil and gas prices have followed global prices higher in recent months and were currently trading at or near multi-year highs and are expected to keep rising through the winter.

Analysts expect US gas inventories will top 3.5 tcf by the start of the winter heating season in November, which they said would be a comfortable level even though it falls short of the 3.7 tcf five-year average. In Europe, analysts say stockpiles are about 15% below normal for this time of year.

Front-month gas futures fell 9.2 cents, or 1.6%, to $5.595 per million British thermal units (mmBtu) at 8:05 a.m. EDT (1205 GMT). On Thursday, the contract settled at its highest since Oct. 5 when it settled at $6.312, its highest since December 2008.

For the week, the front-month was up less than 1% after falling about 1% last week. Another gain this week would be its seventh increase in eight weeks.

Data provider Refinitiv said gas output in the US lower 48 states rose to an average of 92.0 billion cubic feet per day (bcfd) so far in October from 91.1 bcfd in September. That compares with a monthly record of 95.4 bcfd in November 2019.

Refinitiv projected average US gas demand, including exports, would rise from 85.0 bcfd this week to 85.2 bcfd next week and 88.9 bcfd in two weeks as the weather turns seasonally cooler and more homes and businesses turn on their heaters. The forecast for next week was lower than Refinitiv expected on Thursday.

With gas prices near $33 per mmBtu in Europe and Asia, versus around $6 in the United States, traders said buyers around the world will keep purchasing all the LNG the United States could produce.

Refinitiv said the amount of gas flowing to US LNG export plants had slipped from an average of 10.4 bcfd in September to 10.3 bcfd so far in October due to short-term work at some Gulf Coast plants and earlier maintenance at Berkshire Hathaway Energy's Cove Point LNG export plant in Maryland.

With the return of Cove Point on Tuesday, however, LNG feedgas rose to a one-month high of 11.1 bcfd on Thursday. But no matter how high global prices rise, the United States only has capacity to turn about 10.5 bcfd of gas into LNG. Global markets will have to wait until later this year to get more from the United States when the sixth liquefaction train at Cheniere Energy Inc's Sabine Pass and Venture Global LNG's Calcasieu Pass in Louisiana are expected to start producing LNG in test mode.

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