Natural-gas futures rose slightly Friday as traders viewed the previous session's drop to a three-week low as an opportunity to buy, but the market remained under pressure from a mild weather outlook that is expected to curb demand for the fuel.
Natural gas for June delivery recently rose 2.2 cents, or 0.5%, to $4.434 a million British thermal units on the New York Mercantile Exchange.
Weather forecasts for the end of June have turned cooler this week, pressuring futures to a three-week low Thursday as traders bet there will be less need for natural gas-fired electricity to meet air-conditioning demand. Natural gas accounts for about a quarter of U.S. electricity generation.
Temperatures in the Midwest, East and South in the coming days are expected to "underperform" the significant heat seen in the first half of the month, forecasters with Commodity Weather Group said Friday. The next five days will see above-normal temperatures in the Midwest, but the heat is expected to dissipate in the six- to 10-day forecast, the private forecaster said.
Despite the milder weather outlook, some traders were reluctant to hold bets that natural-gas prices would decline heading into the weekend, as forecasts may turn warmer by Monday.
Thursday's selloff came after the U.S. Energy Information Administration said 69 billion cubic feet of natural gas was added to storage last week, near the 70-bcf build in a Dow Jones Newswires survey. Stockpiles last week stood 3.3% below the five-year average, and 10.9% below 2010 levels.
Ample supplies of the fuel and a string of weaker-than-expected U.S. economic data also weighed on the market Friday, analysts with Tradition Energy said in a note.
Oil-field service provider Baker Hughes Inc. (BHI) is slated Friday to release its weekly count of U.S. drilling rigs seeking natural gas. But traders will likely continue to take cues from weather forecasts unless the tally shows a sharp change, said Peter Beutel, president of energy advisory firm Cameron Hanover.
Market participants closely watch the level of drilling activity to get an idea of future supply, and the current pace of drilling is widely viewed as leading to further production gains.
Meanwhile, natural gas for next-day delivery at the benchmark Henry Hub in Louisiana recently traded at $4.4175/MMBtu, according to IntercontinentalExchange, up 8.7 cents from Thursday's average. Natural gas for delivery through Monday at Transcontinental Zone 6 in New York traded at $4.69/MMBtu, down 12.9 cents from Thursday's average.