* Front month well above recent 3-month spot low
* Above-normal nuclear outages, near-term cold support
* Record production, long-term milder weather to limit
* Coming up: Baker Hughes gas drilling rig data Friday
By Eileen Houlihan
NEW YORK, Jan 18 U.S. natural gas futures edged
higher early on Friday, extending gains for a second straight
day and the sixth time in seven sessions, backed by near-term
cold weather in the East and a supportive weekly inventory
But with temperatures expected to moderate in the next week
or so and by early next month, most traders expect limited
As of 9:03 a.m. EST (1403 GMT), front-month February natural
gas futures on the New York Mercantile Exchange were at
$3.525 per million British thermal units, up 3.1 cents, or just
under 1 percent.
The front month contract is up more than 12 percent in the
past six sessions, after falling in early January to $3.05, a
contract low and the lowest mark for a spot contract since late
The latest National Weather Service six-to-10-day forecast
issued on Thursday trimmed further the area of below-normal
temperatures to just a small portion of New England, with mostly
above-normal readings for the remainder of the country.
ANOTHER BIG STORAGE DRAW, BUT STOCKS ABOVE AVERAGE
Thursday's gas storage report from the U.S. Energy
Information Administration showed inventories fell last week by
148 billion cubic feet, above industry expectations for a
Declines have beat industry expectations for the past three
weeks, with last week's 201-bcf draw beating last heating
season's peak draw. Traders said the data reflects what could be
some permanent underlying growth in demand this year as
utilities switch from coal to cheaper gas for power generation.
Despite the large draws, storage remains at 3.168 trillion
cubic feet, about 4 percent below year-ago levels, but more than
11 percent above the five-year average.
(Storage graphic: link.reuters.com/mup44s)
Inventories started the heating season in early November at
3.929 tcf, the fourth straight year when inventories have headed
into the heating season at an all-time peak.
Early withdrawal estimates for next week's storage report
range from 122 bcf to 147 bcf, well below the 162 bcf pulled
from inventory during the same week last year and the five-year
average decline for that week of 176 bcf.
RIGS SLIDE, BUT OUTPUT NEAR RECORD
Traders were awaiting the next Baker Hughes gas drilling rig
report expected later Friday. Last week's data showed the
gas-directed rig count had fallen by five to 434, its first drop
in four weeks.
Drilling for natural gas has mostly declined for more than a
year, with gas rigs down 54 percent since peaking at 936 in
(Rig graphic: r.reuters.com/dyb62s)
But the EIA also said last week that it expected gas output
in 2013 to rise to 69.84 bcf per day, the third straight annual