US natural gas futures edged up to fresh five-week highs on Wednesday on forecasts that continued to call for the weather to remain hotter than normal through late July and a slight decline in output over the past few days.
That should keep the amount of gas power generators burn to keep air conditioners humming on pace to break last July's record high, according to federal projections.
Front-month gas futures for August delivery on the New York Mercantile Exchange were up 2.1 cents, or 0.9pc, to $2.446 per million British thermal units at 8:50 a.m. EDT (1250 GMT). On Tuesday, the contract settled at its highest since May 31.
The premium of August over September collapsed by 80pc from 3.5 cents per mmBtu on Friday, its highest for the year, to less than a penny on Wednesday as later dated futures have increased faster than the front-month.
Those later dated increases helped push calendar 2020 back to a premium over 2021 for the first time since the start of June. Calendar 2020 traded over 2021 from May 2018-May 2019.
Traders said gas futures have mostly traded close to multi-year lows since the end of May as near-record production and moderate weather allowed utilities to inject huge amounts of gas into stockpiles, shrinking a massive storage deficit and removing any concerns about shortages next winter.
The amount of gas in storage has remained below the five-year average since September 2017. It peaked at 33pc under the five-year average in March 2019.
Analysts, however, forecast inventories will reach a near-normal 3.7 trillion cubic feet (tcf) by the end of the summer injection season at the end of October.
Data provider Refinitiv said output in the Lower 48 US states slipped to 89.6 billion cubic feet per day (bcfd) on Tuesday, its lowest in more than a week, from a record high of 91.1 bcfd on Friday. That compares with an average of 82.5 bcfd during this week last year.
With the weather expected to keep heating up, data provider Refinitiv projected demand would rise to 90.4 bcfd next week from 89.5 bcfd this week.
That, however, is a little less than Refinitiv's forecast on Tuesday of 91.1 bcfd for next week.
Traders, however, noted the likely formation of a tropical depression in the Gulf of Mexico over the next 48 hours could reduce demand along the Gulf Coast and disrupt liquefied natural gas (LNG).
The National Hurricane Center said there was a 90pc chance a low pressure system in the northeast Gulf of Mexico south of the Florida Panhandle could strengthen into a tropical depression as it moves toward Texas.
That storm, if it forms, could pass close to three of the nation's four operating LNG export terminals - Sempra Energy's Cameron in Louisiana and Cheniere Energy Inc's Sabine Pass in Louisiana and Corpus Christi in Texas.
There are currently 10 LNG tankers in the northern Gulf of Mexico - most of them waiting to get into Cheniere's Sabine Pass or Corpus Christi, according to Refinitiv's ship tracking data.
Refinitiv said the amount of gas flowing to LNG export terminals was currently near a record 6.3 bcfd and was expected to keep hitting fresh highs in coming weeks as new units enter service at several terminals, including Cheniere's Corpus Christi, Sempra's Cameron, Freeport LNG's Freeport in Texas and Kinder Morgan Inc's Elba in Georgia.
Traders said a recent increase in gas prices in Europe over the past couple of weeks has ended talk for now that some LNG buyers might reject US cargoes even though prices remain near multi-year lows in Asia.
Analysts said utilities likely added 67 billion cubic feet (bcf) of gas to inventories during the week ended July 5.
That compares with an increase of 76 bcf during the same week last year and a five-year (2014-18) average increase of 70 bcf for the period.
If correct, it would be the first time this year the storage increase is smaller than the five-year average and would boost stockpiles to 2.457 tcf.
That would be 6.0pc below the five-year average of 2.613 tcf for this time of year.