US GAS: Futures Tumble On Global Economic Concerns

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NEW YORK (Dow Jones)--Natural gas futures tumbled Wednesday on global economic concerns that roiled the broader commodities and equities markets.

Natural gas for June delivery on the New York Mercantile Exchange settled 18.4 cents lower, or 4.24%, at $4.158 a million British thermal units after reaching a low of $4.131/MMBtu earlier in the day.

Natural gas futures slid on concerns about Europe's debt crisis and a report that U.S. mortgage delinquencies rose to a record in the first quarter. Gas traders have been eyeing economic data closely for signs of a rebound that would boost energy demand.

"Industrial demand has been the biggest Achilles heel for natural gas for the last couple of years," said Chris Jarvis, the president of Caprock Risk Management, an energy investment and analysis firm.

Ample supplies and moderate temperatures were also pressuring gas prices lower Wednesday. But if market expectations of a smaller-than-normal build in U.S. gas inventories for last week pan out, gas futures could pare losses on Thursday.

Analysts and traders expect government data scheduled for release Thursday to show a below-average build in gas inventories because of brisk temperatures in the major gas-consuming regions last week. The U.S. Energy Information Administration is expected to report that 78 billion cubic feet of gas were added to storage during the week ended May 14, according to the average prediction of 23 analysts and traders in a Dow Jones Newswires survey.

The EIA is scheduled to release its storage data Thursday at 10:30 a.m. EDT. The storage estimate falls short of last year's 100 bcf build in storage for the same week and the five-year average build for that week, which was 93 bcf.

If the estimate is correct, inventories as of May 14 will total 2.167 trillion cubic feet, about 17% above the five-year average and 3.6% above last year's level for the same week.

Unusual late-season cold last week sparked demand for natural gas for heating, leading to a modest injection of gas into storage, traders and analysts predicted. Rising industrial demand as the economy improves is also boosting gas consumption, and gas producers are starting to pull back in response to low prices, said Bill Costello, the president of Bull Run Energy Research in Boston, Mass.

"We do think industrial demand is improving and we believe we are starting to see some signs of activity moderating on the drilling side," Costello wrote in a note to clients.

-By Christine Buurma, Dow Jones Newswires; 212-416-2143;

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