Natural gas futures settled higher Tuesday after forecasts called for warmer weather in the U.S. in the coming weeks, boosting expectations for higher demand.
Natural gas for August delivery settled up 5.2 cents, or 1.2%, to $4.363 a million British thermal units on the New York Mercantile Exchange.
Fresh buyers entered the market following Friday's decline of 1.4%, as forecasts called for warmer-than-normal weather in the U.S. over the next several weeks. That prompted traders to place bets that gas demand would rise to meet cooling needs.
"The weather is what we're keying on from a trader's perspective," said Larry Young, president of Covenant Trading LLC in Chicago. "This time of year that is what's really key."
Forecaster MDA Earthsat called for warmer-than-usual temperatures in Texas and the Midwest over the next six to 10 days. The heat will eventually move eastward to the Northeast and mid-Atlantic, the group said. Its 11-to-15-day forecast sees a "warm pattern overall" across the U.S.
Commodity Weather Group also sees above-average temperatures across the South and parts of the Central U.S. over the next 11 to 15 days.
Warmer temperatures often spur natural gas buying, particularly in the summer, as homes and businesses turn up their air conditioners, prompting more electricity-driven natural gas demand.
U.S. gas supplies, however, remain "adequate," said Ed Kennedy, senior vice president of energy trading at INTL Hencorp Futures in Miami, Fla. High supply levels have kept natural gas prices trading under $5 per million British thermal units for almost a year.
"We're looking a bit deeper out there and seeing a good supply-and-demand balance for the next couple of weeks," said Pax Saunders, analyst at Gelber & Associates in Houston.
Natural gas futures briefly dipped into negative territory midway through the session Tuesday, which several traders attributed to profit-taking following a steep run in morning trading. The front-month contract hit an intraday high of $4.411 a million British thermal units before pulling back.
Futures have seesawed for the last four sessions, swinging in a tight range between $4.20 and $4.40 a million British thermal units. A smaller-than-expected build in weekly U.S. inventories reported last week gave prices some momentum, but traders pared those gains Friday. That decline helped inspire buying Tuesday following the three-day weekend in the U.S., as traders looked to enter the market at lower prices.