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NEW YORK: US natural gas futures rose on Thursday as investors covered short positions ahead of a weekly inventory report, but gains were limited by forecasts for less cold weather over the next two weeks.

Front-month gas futures for April delivery rose 5.2 cents, or 2.1%, to settle at $2.491 per million British thermal units (mmBtu).

“It’s primarily driven by short covering from yesterday’s sell off ahead of today’s storage report,” said Robert DiDona of Energy Ventures Analysis.

Even though prices have been moving in small increments, “this is much less volatility than what we’ve been used to in the natural gas market,” Didona added.

The US Energy Information Administration (EIA) will release its weekly storage report at 10:30 a.m. EDT (1430 GMT) later today.

Analysts forecast US utilities pulled just 62 billion cubic feet (bcf) of gas from storage during the week ended March 10. That compares with a decrease of 866 bcf in the same week last year and a five-year (2018-2022) average decline of 77 bcf.

If correct, last week’s decrease would cut stockpiles to 1.968 trillion cubic feet (tcf), or 36% above the five-year average.

Utilities have left more gas in storage than usual due to milder winter weather so far this year.

Data provider Refinitiv estimated 281 heating degree days (HDDs) over the next two weeks, down from 300 HDDs estimated on Wednesday.

HDDs estimate demand to heat homes and businesses by measuring the number of degrees a day’s average temperature is below 65 degrees Fahrenheit (18 degrees Celsius).

Refinitiv forecast US gas demand, including exports, would slide from 120.5 bcfd this week to 117.8 bcfd next week.

Meanwhile, Federal regulators approved the restart of two of Freeport LNG’s three liquefaction trains (Trains 2 and 3) in February and the third train (Train 1) on March 8. Liquefaction trains turn gas into LNG.

Gas flows to LNG export plants have been on track to hit record highs since Freeport LNG’s export plant in Texas exited an eight-month outage in February. The plant was shut due to a fire in June 2022.

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