U.S. gas: Futures retreat as focus turns to cooler weather

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Natural gas futures fell Monday, as traders shrugged off any threat from Hurricane Irene and focused on forecasts for cooler weather.

Natural gas for September delivery recently traded down 7.7 cents, or 2%, to $3.863 a million British thermal units on the New York Mercantile Exchange.

Futures traded lower as forecasters looked for easing temperatures in the coming weeks. Predictions over the next six to 10 days pointed to a "significant cool down" compared with previous temperature outlooks, said Jim Ritterbusch, head of the trading advisory firm Ritterbusch and Associates.

"A difficult trading environment is likely to remain in effect well into next month unless a major hurricane event develops into the [Gulf of Mexico] region," said Ritterbusch in a research report.

Forecasts for cooler temperatures typically weigh on natural gas futures because electricity use, spurred by air-conditioning needs, is a major driver of U.S. gas demand. The cooler weather comes on the heels of hot temperatures throughout much of the country this summer, which spurred higher demand and helped maintain a year-over-year storage deficit.

Natural gas futures have since given up much of their summer gains, with the peak summer cooling-demand season winding down and signs of economic weakness in the U.S. persisting. Natural gas futures have held below $4 per million British thermal units for nearly a week, after rising to almost $5 in June.

"We have ample supply of gas, we have ample production levels and we have an uncertain economic picture here in the U.S.," said Gene McGillian, analyst at Tradition Energy.

Meanwhile, market participants shrugged off the possibility of any supply disruptions caused by Hurricane Irene. Recent forecasts are now calling for the storm to dodge the key Gulf of Mexico production area, expecting it instead to bear down on Florida's east coast.

Natural gas futures on Friday rose more than 1.2%, boosted by fears that Irene would head toward the Gulf.

"While the market seemed to get a little bit of a boost on hurricane jitters ... now we have a clearer track that it's going to avoid the Gulf," McGillian said.

Meanwhile, natural gas for next-day delivery at the benchmark Henry Hub in Louisiana recently traded at $3.97/MMBtu, according to IntercontinentalExchange, down 3 cents from Friday's average. Natural gas for Tuesday delivery at Transcontinental Zone 6 in New York traded at $4.21/MMBtu, down 3 cents from Friday.



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