Speculators cut U.S. natgas net longs for 5th consecutive week: CFTC

A natural gas flare on an oil well pad burns as the sun sets outside Watford City, North Dakota January 21, 2016. REUTERS/Andrew Cullen

NEW YORK (Reuters) - U.S. natural gas speculators cut their net long positions for a fifth week in a row on forecasts that the weather will remain warmer than normal for the rest of the winter.

Speculators in four major NYMEX and ICE markets reduced their bullish bets by 41,891 contracts to 256,808 in the week to Feb. 21, the U.S. Commodity Futures Trading Commission said on Friday.

It was the longest decline in net longs since April 2015.

That compares with a five-year (2012-16) average speculative net long position of around 127,300. The biggest net long position was 456,475 in April 2013, while the biggest net short position was 166,165 in November 2015, according to Reuters data.

Gas futures on the New York Mercantile Exchange averaged $2.79 per million British thermal units during the four trading days ended Feb. 21, accounting for the holiday, versus $3.03 during the five trading days ended Feb. 14.

U.S. natural gas futures edged lower on Friday, with the front-month contract down about 8 percent this week, putting it on track for a fourth week of losses. [NGA/]

Reporting by Catherine Ngai; Editing by James Dalgleish and Grant McCool