Natural-gas futures settled at their lowest level since April on Wednesday as weak economic data led to negative sentiment among traders who now wait for Thursday's inventory data for more direction.
Natural gas for September delivery settled down 6.5 cents, or 1.6%, at $4.090 per million British thermal units on the New York Mercantile Exchange.
Futures first rose, but reversed course after 10:30 a.m. following weak economic news and as crude oil and equities tumbled.
The benchmark contract ended the day below May 19's $4.094 settlement price to reach the lowest settlement since April 8, $4.041/MMbtu. Wednesday's intraday low was $4.066/MMbtu.
The Commerce Department said Wednesday that orders for manufactured goods fell in June by 0.8% from the previous month.
The Institute for Supply Management also said its non-manufacturing purchasing managers' index fell in July, two days after disclosing that its manufacturing PMI was down in July to 50.9, just above the level indicating that activity is expanding.
Pessimism in the market from the overall U.S. economic picture, paired with technical factors, led to the morning's sharp fall, said Jay Levine, president of Enerjay LLC.
"[The decline] is not surprising, considering the negative sentiment across the board," he said.
Any turnaround will be based on a change in trader sentiment first, he added.
The market may not have too much downside, said Chris Kostas, a senior analyst with Energy Security Analysis Inc.
"The $4.05 level has provided significant support going back over a year," Kostas said.
So far, other factors in the natural-gas market aren't offering support for prices. Hot weather continues in southern and central states, but temperatures are expected to moderate next week in the Midwest and East, Commodity Weather Group said. Sustained heat last month had driven up prices as more natural gas was in demand to generate electricity for cooling needs.
Tropical Storm Emily is expected to move over Haiti Wednesday night, the National Hurricane Center said. The storm isn't expected to move toward the Gulf of Mexico, however, where natural gas is produced.
For now, traders are focused on Thursday's storage report from the Energy Department.
In a Dow Jones Newswires survey, analysts and traders said they expect the Energy Information Administration Thursday to report that 36 billion cubic feet of gas was added to storage during the week ended July 29.
The market could test $4 if the storage number meets expectations, "but there's potentially a line of buyers both technical and fundamental to participate," said Pax Saunders, an analyst with Gelber & Associates, in a client note.
Last week, futures fell on the report of a larger-than-expected storage build. The EIA's natural-gas inventory report is scheduled to be released Thursday at 10:30 a.m. EDT.