U.S. gas: Futures hinge on unseasonably cold weather

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Natural-gas futures hovered around Tuesday's settlement price early Wednesday as an unusually cold front affecting the Midwest signaled a possibly colder winter in the months to come.

At the same time, weather forecaster Commodity Weather Group lowered its crop freeze-damage risk estimate to 30% and confined the risk to Minnesota. Residents of colder climates are unlikely to fire up furnaces this early in the year, analysts said, making the unusually early frost more of a psychological indicator for traders than a fundamental driver of demand.

Gas for October delivery on the New York Mercantile Exchange was up 0.6%, or 2.1 cents, at $4.001 per million British thermal units in early trade. Prices traded between $3.955 and $4.011.

Market research firm Ritterbusch & Associates said light trading will likely continue until the Department of Energy releases its weekly inventory report Thursday.

Most market watchers are forecasting an increase in inventories well above the market's five-year averages after weeks of steadily growing production.

Tradition Energy analyst Gene McGillian said the cold spell isn't likely to boost near-term heating demand, but even small indicators have driven trading over the past week. Inclement weather in the Gulf of Mexico has done little to tighten supplies as a glut of onshore production overshadows the storms.

If a rally occurs, McGillian said it will "be predicated on how early we're going to see an early start to the season for heating demand."

"It really does seem to be a weather market for the time being," he said.

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