US natural gas futures held steady on Wednesday as the market waited for direction from a federal report expected to show last week's storage draw was smaller than usual for this time of year as output rises to record highs.
Analysts forecast US utilities pulled 22 billion cubic feet (bcf) of gas from storage during the week ended Nov. 19, the first withdrawal of the 2021-2022 winter season. That compares with a decline of 11 bcf in the same week last year and a five-year (2016-2020) average decline of 44 bcf.
If correct, last week's injection would cut stockpiles to 3.622 trillion cubic feet (tcf), which would be 1.6% below the five-year average of 3.681 tcf for this time of year.
On their second to last trading day as the front-month, gas futures for December delivery fell 2 cents, or 0.4%, to $4.947 per million British thermal units (mmBtu) at 7:17 a.m. EST (1217 GMT).
The December contract expires on Friday, Nov. 26, the day after the US Thanksgiving holiday on Thursday.
The January contract, which will soon be the front-month, was down 0.7% to around $5.00 per mmBtu.
In recent months, global gas prices hit record highs as utilities around the world scrambled for LNG cargoes to replenish extremely low stockpiles in Europe and meet insatiable demand in Asia, where energy shortfalls have caused power blackouts in China.
Following those global gas prices, US futures jumped to a 12-year high in early October, but have since pulled back because the United States has plenty of gas in storage and ample production for the winter. Overseas prices continue to trade about six times higher than US futures.
Analysts have said European inventories were about 17% below normal for this time of year, compared with just 2% below normal in the United States.
Data provider Refinitiv said output in the US Lower 48 states averaged 96.2 billion cubic feet per day (bcfd) so far in November, up from 94.1 bcfd in October and a monthly record of 95.4 bcfd in November 2019.
Refinitiv projected average US gas demand, including exports, would rise from 111.4 bcfd this week to 112.9 bcfd next week as the weather turns seasonally colder and homes and businesses crank up their heaters. Those forecasts were a little higher than Refinitiv's forecast on Tuesday.
The amount of gas flowing to US LNG export plants has averaged 11.2 bcfd so far in November, up from 10.5 bcfd in October as the sixth train at Cheniere Energy Inc's Sabine Pass plant in Louisiana started producing LNG. That compares with a monthly record of 11.5 bcfd in April.
With gas prices around $30 per mmBtu in Europe and $36 in Asia, compared with about $5 in the United States, traders said buyers around the world will keep purchasing all the LNG the United States can produce.