U.S. gas: Battered futures post tentative gains

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Natural gas futures prices were slightly higher Friday, tentatively supported by a smaller-than-expected rise in inventories.

Prices settled at their lowest since late October on Thursday, when they dropped for the fifth time in six trading sessions. But buyers were stirred by a bounce off the session lows, which carried into Friday.

Gas futures have been beaten down in recent weeks, dropping by about one-third from the middle of last week, when they topped $4 per million British thermal units.

But with mild weather in the near-term forecast, no threat to supplies from a hurricane season that is past its peak and sufficient storage, traders said the market is biding its time, awaiting the arrival of the winter demand season. Market players don't rule out further drops before the shoulder-season October futures contract expires on Wednesday.

Natural-gas futures for October delivery on the New York Mercantile Exchange were 1.6 cents higher, at $3.722 per mmBtu, after trading in a range of $3.697 to $3.755 since Thursday's settlement.

"People appear happy to square their positions ahead of the weekend," said Matt Smith, a commodity analyst at Summit Energy. "There is nothing too dramatic in the weather forecast, nothing in the hurricane outlook and supply is super strong." But he said the recovery Thursday from a low of $3.66 spurring players to cover their short positions.

The Energy Information Administration's survey, released Thursday, showed natural gas inventories rose by 89 billion cubic feet during the week ended Sept. 16. Analysts had expected a 91-bcf injection, according to a Dow Jones Newswires survey.

Jim Ritterbusch, president of Ritterbusch and Associates, noted that the natural gas market is somewhat insulated against the gyrations of the foreign exchange market that has added fury to the sell-off in other commodities. Still, the market faces the same worries about economic recovery, with industrial demand accounting for about 30% of domestic demand.

The Federal Reserve warned on Wednesday of a significant downside risk to the economic outlook.



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