* Heatwave continues to bake eastern U.S.
* Some moderating temperatures on tap for next week
* Coming Up: EIA natgas storage data 10:30 a.m. EDT, 1430
By Eileen Houlihan
NEW YORK, July 18 U.S. natural gas futures edged
higher early on Thursday, lifted by expectations that weekly
government storage data would show a below-average inventory
build, while the eastern half of the nation baked in the fifth
day of a heatwave.
But most traders said moderating weather on tap for some of
the nation next week, below average nuclear power plant outages
and near-record production should limit more upside.
Most traders and analysts expect weekly data from the U.S.
Energy Information Administration to show a build of about 64
billion cubic feet when it is released at 10:30 a.m. EDT (1430
GMT), a Reuters poll showed.
Stocks rose just 29 bcf during the same week last year, but
on average over five years have gained 70 bcf for that week.
As of 9:09 a.m. EDT (1309 GMT), front-month August natural
gas futures on the New York Mercantile Exchange were at
$3.672 per million British thermal units, up 4.3 cents, or about
The contract fell slightly on Wednesday after rising the
prior three sessions, backed by the heat. It slid to a nearly
four-month low of $3.526 in late June.
Forecaster MDA Weather Services continued to call for heat
in the Midwest and East early in its one- to five-day forecast,
with hotter weather on tap for the South and Central U.S. in the
six- to 10-day time period.
The latest National Weather Service six- to 10-day forecast
issued Wednesday called for above-normal temperatures for about
the western half of the nation, with normal or below-normal
readings in the East and most of Texas.
Last week's EIA gas storage report showed a build in line
with analysts' expectations, but traders noted the injection was
the sixth straight above-average weekly build, further slicing
what remains of an inventory deficit to the five-year average.
The report showed total domestic inventories rose the prior
week by 82 bcf to 2.687 trillion cubic feet, about 14 percent
below last year's record-high level, but less than 1 percent
below the five-year average.
Nuclear plant outages on Wednesday totaled just 2,800
megawatts, or 3 percent of U.S. capacity, up from 2,500 MW out
on Tuesday, but well below the 7,500 MW out a year ago at this
time and a five-year average outage of about 5,000 MW.
Thursday's outage data was not yet available.
Baker Hughes gas drilling rig data last week showed
the gas rig count rose for a third straight week, gaining seven
to 362 and rising from the recent 18-year low of 349.
(Editing by Nick Zieminski)