U.S. gas: Futures end unchanged Friday, down 4.9% on the week

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Natural-gas futures stayed flat Friday as traders weighed the previous session's drop below $4 and losses ahead of the weekend.

Natural gas for September delivery on Friday settled unchanged at $3.941 per million British thermal units on the New York Mercantile Exchange.

Futures reached a fresh low of $3.901/MMBtu before the session opened, then kept a tight trading range between $3.924/MMbtu and $3.979/MMBtu. The benchmark contract ended down 4.9% on the week, largely due to Thursday's drop of 15 cents.

The market was "licking its wounds after yesterday's losses," said Matt Smith, a commodity analyst with Summit Energy.

Economic data that have pushed down the prices of equities and oil played a small part in the decline, he said, but noted that the bigger picture for the market is one of strong natural-gas supply.

On Thursday, another larger-than-expected weekly storage injection was reported by the Energy Information Administration, triggering a steep drop and a settlement below $4 for the first time in about five months.

Demand for the fuel just hasn't been a match for the high production rate. Earlier this week, the EIA released data for May showing production fell just 0.1% that month, still at a high rate of 69.22 billion cubic feet a day.

As more evidence that low prices haven't deterred producers, the count on the number of rigs drilling for gas and oil each rose by six this week. There were 883 gas rigs and 1,031 oil rigs drilling this week, Baker Hughes Inc. (BHI) said Friday.

Amid losses across other markets this week, traders have some concerns about demand for natural gas.

Futures prices around $4 could persist for the next few weeks, "especially if the economic view tempers expectations for manufacturing demand improvement as factory maintenance season wraps up soon," said Pax Saunders, an analyst with Gelber & Associates, in a client note.

Weather factors still aren't giving the market much support. The remnants of what was Tropical Storm Emily now have a 60% chance of regenerating into a tropical cyclone in the next 48 hours, the National Hurricane Center said.

Hot summer weather tends to drive up demand for natural gas to generate electricity to power air conditioning, but heat is now less widespread across the U.S.

Southern regions of the country are still burdened by temperatures around 100 degrees, but more-normal temperatures are expected in the upper Midwest and East, according to Commodity Weather Group's six- to 10-day forecast.

More above-normal temperatures will be needed to keep buying interest going, Smith said.

"There just isn't the impetus there to buy," he added.



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