UPDATE 3-U.S. natgas futures end down on pre-holiday profit-taking
* Cool near-term forecasts, holiday pressure prices * Warmer extended weather outlook limits downside By Joe Silha NEW YORK, May 24 (Reuters) - U.S. natural gas futures ended slightly lower on Friday in light profit-taking ahead of a three-day holiday weekend, but the downside was limited by forecasts for warmer weather next week which should stir more demand. Traders said the market was due for a pullback after climbing earlier this week, particularly with moderate temperatures expected for the next few days and demand tapering off during the Memorial Day holiday weekend when many schools and businesses are closed regardless of weather. "I think we just pulled back ahead of the (long) weekend. The near-term weather looks mild, but the forecast for later next week and into early June looks pretty bullish," said Steve Mosley at The SMC Report in Arkansas. Front-month gas futures on the New York Mercantile Exchange ended down 2.4 cents at $4.237 per million British thermal units after trading between $4.216 and $4.295. Despite the pullback, the front contract finished the week with a 4.5 percent gain, its second straight weekly rise following a 3.7 percent increase the previous week. Baker Hughes data on Friday showed the gas-directed rig count was unchanged this week at 354. The count posted an 18-year low of 350 just two weeks ago. Despite a steep decline in dry gas drilling over the last year and a half, production has not slowed much, if at all. The Energy Information Administration still expects output in 2013 to post a record high for a third straight year. Most traders viewed Thursday's 89 billion cubic feet weekly inventory build as supportive, noting it came in below the Reuters poll estimate of 91 bcf and the five-year average rise for that week of 90 bcf. Traders said they expected injections to continue to slow in coming weeks as temperatures heat up and force more homeowners and businesses to turn on air conditioners. Early injection estimates for next week's report range from 80 bcf to 103 bcf versus a 72-bcf build during the same week last year and a five-year average rise for that week of 92 bcf. Mostly below-seasonal temperatures are expected for the eastern half of the country for the next few days, but Commodity Weather Group's six- to 10-day forecast calls for warmer temperatures in the central and eastern United States, with some much-above-normal readings stretching into the mid-Atlantic.
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