Natural gas futures broke from their six-day slide on bargain buying and predictions for another round of above-average temperatures.
Natural gas for July delivery settled higher by 7.1 cents, or 1.64%, at $4.388 a million British thermal units on the New York Mercantile Exchange.
Futures have fluctuated within a relatively narrow trading range for the past several months. With little faith that prices will rise much above $5/MMBtu, traders are quick to cash in on gains whenever that mark is near. Prices closer to $4/MMBtu, however, have sparked buying interest.
Rich Ilczyszyn, senior market strategist for Lind-Waldock in Chicago, said Tuesday's uptick likely represents another bargain-buying-fueled bounce from a recent low and this time that futures may be headed above the 10-month highs seen earlier this month.
"I think they're going to try to get a trade just above $5 this time," Ilczyszyn said. "But I think there's a lot of sellers up there."
Prices also got a boost Tuesday from forecasts predicting a return next week of hotter-than-normal temperatures over much of the U.S.
While the weather is unlikely to be as balmy as it was earlier this month during the market's last rally, temperatures will likely be enough in many cities to lift demand for gas-fueled electricity to power air conditioners.
"The forecast has finally taken a step in the warmer direction today after largely trending cooler during the past week," MDA EarthSat said.
The private forecaster sees the hot air currently over the Southwest pushing into the Great Plains and Texas next week, eventually bringing hotter-than-normal temperatures to a swath stretching from New Mexico to Maine through the July 4 weekend.
The ongoing heat should boost cooling demand in the Northeast, Southeast and South-Central regions about 20% above seasonal norms, analysts with Canaccord Genuity said.
"Combined, these regions constitute nearly 60% of the country's gas-fired generation, thus keeping a bid underneath gas power demand over the next couple days," the analysts wrote in a client note.
Many analysts and the Energy Information Administration have predicted that U.S. gas stockpiles will approach record levels this fall on strong production from onshore shale formations. So far, though, unseasonably warm weather has helped preserve a gulf between current inventories and both year-ago and five-year-average levels.
As the market figures in the second round of high temperatures, and the greater gas-fired power demand they likely portend, "we see downside price possibilities as limited from current levels and would expect prices to ratchet higher through month's end," said Galena, Ill., trading advisory Ritterbusch and Associates.