Natural gas futures edged higher ahead of the government's weekly storage report as traders considered a Gulf of Mexico storm that threatens to disrupt production.
Natural gas for October delivery recently traded 0.4 cent, or 0.1%, higher, at $4.058 a million British thermal units on the New York Mercantile Exchange.
The benchmark contract has risen 7.4% since reaching a six-month low of $3.78/MMBtu on Tuesday.
Fund shorts "looking for even minor reasons to cover a portion of their large bearish holdings" have found one in a storm that the National Hurricane Center said has a 70% chance of developing into a tropical cyclone before week's end, analysts with trading advisory firm Ritterbusch & Associates wrote in a note to clients. But while the storm could disrupt production, "the expected strength of the storm is unlikely to have more than a brief impact on offshore drilling activity," the firm said.
Big gulf producers including Apache, Chevron and BP have begun to evacuate nonessential workers ahead of the storm, but none have reported shutting in any output.
"We're not going to shut in significant production over winds of 45 miles an hour," Morgan Keegan analyst Roger Read said. There have been reports of nonessential personnel being pulled off, but "that can just be as simple as one less cook out there."
Since producers have begun unleashing vast troves of gas from onshore shale formations, the gulf's importance in natural gas production has waned. The Energy Information Administration said earlier this week that while daily natural gas production in the lower 48 states rose in June to a new shale-era high of 69.47 billion cubic feet, gulf output declined for the sixth straight month to 5.07 bcf per day.
Indeed, Hurricane Irene, which plowed up the East Coast over the weekend may have a greater impact on the gas market. Though Irene had no impact on production, it greatly reduced demand in some major power markets.
PFGBest analyst Phil Flynn said Irene's impact will be seen when the Energy Information Administration issues its next two weekly reports on U.S. gas stockpiles.
The EIA is scheduled to release storage data for the week ended Aug. 26 at 10:30 a.m. EDT.
Analysts and traders polled in a Dow Jones Newswires survey Wednesday expect the EIA to report Thursday that 62 bcf of natural gas was added to U.S. stockpiles during the week. Such a build is largely in line with the 60-bcf five-year average for the week, though greater than last year's 52-bcf injection.
Meanwhile, natural gas for next-day delivery at the benchmark Henry Hub in Louisiana recently traded at $4.17/MMBtu, according to IntercontinentalExchange, up 20 cents from Wednesday's average. Natural gas for Friday delivery at Transcontinental Zone 6 in New York recently traded at $4.39/MMBtu, up 19 cents from Wednesday.