Natural-gas futures edged higher Thursday, as traders awaited weekly storage data expected to show a larger-than-average increase in U.S. inventories.

Natural gas for August delivery recently rose 2 cents, or 0.5%, to $4.237 a million British thermal units on the New York Mercantile Exchange.

Futures settled down almost 15 cents Wednesday as moderating weather in some parts of the U.S. led traders to cut their demand outlook for the fuel.

The Department of Energy's report, due at 10:30 a.m. EDT, is expected to show an inventory build of 81 billion cubic feet, on average, during the week ended July 1, according to analysts surveyed by Dow Jones Newswires. That is above last year's 76-bcf injection and the five-year average build of 80 bcf.

Injections that exceed expectations typically push prices lower, while those below predictions often lift prices. Last week, futures rose as the EIA reported a lower-than-expected 78 bcf build.

A build in the 70s could trigger an "outsized" upside price response after Wednesday's nearly 15-cent decline, analysts from Ritterbusch & Associates said in a note.

Positive economic data Thursday could be lending some support to futures ahead of the storage injection data, said Phil Flynn, an analyst with PFG Best in Chicago.

The number of private-sector jobs in the U.S. rose by 157,000 in June, according to a national employment report published by Automatic Data Processing Inc. (ADP) and consultancy Macroeconomic Advisers.

This figure was more than the gain of 95,000 jobs expected by economists surveyed by Dow Jones Newswires.

New claims for unemployment benefits fell more than expected last week as well.

"I do think natural gas sold off a little bit on concerns about the economy," Flynn said.

The threat of a cool-down in temperatures put pressure on the market Wednesday, but Energycast Trader expects heat in the south-central U.S. will expand into the Midwest early next week. Hot weather will also continue in the Southern Plains and Texas, and humidity levels are expected to become fairly high, the private forecaster said.

High temperatures in the summer tend to increase use of the power-plant fuel to generate electricity to power air conditioning.

Meanwhile, natural gas for next-day delivery at the benchmark Henry Hub in Louisiana recently traded at $4.25/MMBtu, according to IntercontinentalExchange, down 9.4 cents from Wednesday's average. Natural gas for Friday delivery at Transcontinental Zone 6 in New York traded at $4.50/MMBtu, down 30 cents from the average a day earlier.