(Adds latest prices) Dec 16 (Reuters) - U.S. natural gas futures set a 14-year low on Wednesday on forecasts for continued unseasonably mild weather that should keep heating demand extraordinarily light through late December. The front-month January contract is testing the $1.76 support level, which was the 2001 low. If it falls below that, futures would drop to their lowest point since March 1999. Front-month natural gas futures on the New York Mercantile Exchange closed down 3.2 cents, or down 1.8 percent, at $1.79 per million British thermal units. Earlier Wednesday, they reached a contract low of $1.775. The contract finished down for a sixth day in a row, the longest losing streak since January 2013. Over those six days, the front-month has collapsed about 12 percent, keeping it in oversold territory for eight consecutive sessions with the Relative Strength Index (RSI) at its lowest since January 2012. With the price rout, gas futures earlier Wednesday traded at a discount to eastern coal futures on an mmBtu basis for the first time since June 2012. Power companies, however, have been burning record amounts of gas to generate electricity all year. It makes sense when the gas premium over coal, which carries higher environmental and transport costs, is less than $1 per mmBtu, as it has been for more than three-quarters of 2015. Gas futures for the winter and all of 2016 have been depressed for most of this year, with production at record levels, storage at record highs and forecasts for a warmer-than-normal winter caused by the El Niño weather pattern. The premium of January 2017 futures over January 2016 and the premium of April 2016 over March 2016 both climbed to all-time highs. The calendar year 2016 strip set an all-time low of $2.20, which would put it below the current year average of $2.65 and make it the lowest annual price since 1998. With futures at 14-year lows, speculators were mixed on whether prices would move higher or lower. Some of the most active American-style options on the NYMEX were the $1.90 and $1.95 January 2016 calls and the $1.50 and $1.75 January 2016 puts. Open interest in the contracts was near all-time highs. <0#NGOPav+> Week ended Prior Year Five-year Dec. 11 Week Ago Average U.S. natgas storage estimates -40 -76 -62 -120 (in bcf): Heating & Cooling Degree Days Two-Week Average Current Prior 30-Year Day Day Norm GFS HDDs 338 332 440 GFS CDDs 9 8 3 EC HDDs 295 301 411 EC CDDs 10 8 3 GFS Gas Consumption Two-Week Average Current Prior 30-Year Day Day Norm Residential 21.7 21.4 27.6 Commercial 12.8 12.7 15.6 Power 24.2 23.9 19.1 Industrial 21.6 21.5 24.2 Total 80.4 79.5 86.5 EC Gas Consumption Two-Week Average Current Prior 30-Year Day Day Norm Residential 20.3 20.6 27.5 Commercial 12.0 12.2 15.5 Power 24.2 24.1 19.1 Industrial 21.4 21.4 24.2 Total 77.0 78.3 86.2 Thomson Reuters Supply Estimates (bcfd): Current Prior Prior High since Day Day Year 2011 U.S. Lower 48 production 73.0 73.2 73.6 75.8 Net U.S. imports from Canada 4.7 4.5 5.7 8.3 U.S. LNG imports 0.2 0.2 0.4 2.2 U.S. exports to Mexico 4.3 3.8 1.6 4.3 ICE U.S. Natural Gas Next-Day Prices ($ per mmBtu): Hub Current Prior Day Day Algonquin1.93 1.71 Dominion South 1.05 1.07 New York 1.50 1.71 Henry Hub 1.68 1.65 Chicago 1.85 1.74 SoCal Border 2.33 2.21 ICE U.S. Power Next-Day Prices ($ per megawatt-hour): Hub Current Prior Day Day Ercot North 21.00 Mid C 21.12 20.34 New England 24.25 23.29 Palo Verde 23.91 22.66 PJM West 31.83 28.22 SP-15 31.60 29.10 (Reporting by Scott DiSavino; Editing by Lisa Von Ahn and Lisa Shumaker)
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