US GAS: Futures Fluctuate Amid Rising Oil Prices, Mild Weather

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HOUSTON (Dow Jones)--Natural gas futures fluctuate amid rising oil prices as traders weighed ample supplies of the fuel against the buying opportunities presented by recent price declines.

Natural gas for May delivery on the New York Mercantile Exchange was trading less than a penny higher at $4.169 a million British thermal units. The front-month contract fell as low as $4.114/MMBtu in earlier, choppy trading.

Natural gas prices were moving slightly higher in earlier trade, "taking its cue from rising oil prices and positive equities movement," said Cameron Horwitz, an analyst with SunTrust Robinson Humphrey in Houston. Natural gas will sometimes move in tandem with these markets, which can act as bellwethers for the economy and overall energy demand.

However, weather forecasts are predicting mild weather and some traders are expecting a U.S. government report, scheduled for release Thursday, to show a larger-than-average injection into natural gas storage, signaling increased natural gas supplies.

The National Weather Service is predicting above-normal temperatures in the Midwest and near-normal temperatures in the Northeast, which can stifle natural gas demand and keep a lid on price rallies. The natural gas market has now entered its so-called shoulder season when heating demand fades and demand for gas to generate electricity for air conditioners has not yet picked up.

"We are unlikely to get any real help from temperatures (in terms of usage) until it starts getting seasonally hot," analysts with the energy advisory firm Cameron Hanover wrote in a note to clients.

Market participants are also turning their attention to the Thursday release of a report on natural gas storage data. Those weekly reports are closely monitored by analysts and traders, who are trying to gauge the balance between supply and demand.

Natural gas in storage for the week ended April 2 stood at 1.669 trillion cubic feet -- slightly below last year's level and 12.1% higher than the five-year average.

Some analysts are expecting that natural gas in storage will increase relative to historical levels when the report is released.

"It is this dynamic of the expansion in the supply surplus that has recently been at work in precluding sustained price advances," Jim Ritterbusch, president of the energy advisory firm Ritterbusch and Associates wrote in a note to clients on Wednesday.


-By Jason Womack, Dow Jones Newswires; 713-547-9201; jason.womack@dowjones.com




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