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Natural gas futures rose 2.5% Monday, lifted by signs of rising demand from power utilities and recent output cuts.
"It's holding the gains from last week," said Tom Saal, vice president of energy trading at INTL Hencorp Futures in Miami. "It could be a combination of declining production and increased demand from coal switching" among power generators.
Natural gas for June delivery settled 5.7 cents, or 2.5%, higher at $2.336 a million British thermal units on the New York Mercantile Exchange.
Prices have risen 22% since bottoming out at $1.907/MMBtu in mid-April, their lowest level since September 2001. The extended rally has been fueled by a combination of increased power-generation demand, production cuts and cooler weather, which has boosted long-dormant demand for natural gas used for heating.
Last week, the Energy Information Administration said natural gas used to generate electricity surged 34.6% in February to its highest level ever for that month, as power generators turn to cheap gas in place of coal.
Meanwhile, the elevated demand comes as producers finally show a willingness to cut production in the face of slumping prices. Several producers, including No. 1 gas producer Exxon Mobil (XOM), disclosed in their first-quarter earnings statements that they reduced gas output or shifted drilling to focus on oil and other liquids.
The EIA also said last week that gross natural-gas production in February fell 0.6% in the lower 48 states, the biggest decline in a year.
Front-month futures have been bobbing around the low $2/MMBtu level over the last week, suggesting that prices may have found a new baseline following their recent slump.
Natural gas futures have been clobbered over the last year as a mild winter wiped out demand for natural gas used for heating, while production rose to record highs.
Last week, data from the EIA showed that natural-gas inventories the previous week rose less than expected and less than the historical average, the latest sign that demand is increasing.
Still, inventories currently stand at 2.576 trillion cubic feet, about 50% above their average level for this time of year. The EIA is due to release its next update on natural-gas inventories on Thursday.
Tim Evans, energy analyst at Citi Futures Perspective, said further below-average additions to storage are likely in the coming weeks, which could further support prices.
"Prices may have a few more days to try the upside, possibly including a reaction to Thursday's storage report, but could fall back in a 'sell-the-news' cycle beyond that point," he wrote in a note to clients.
FUTURES SETTLEMENT NET CHANGE
Nymex June $2.336 +5.7c
Nymex July $2.422 +5.1c
Nymex Aug $2.488 +4.9c
CASH HUB RANGE PREVIOUS DAY
Henry Hub $2.275-$2.32 $2.2450-$2.33
Transco 65 $2.23-$2.29 $2.1925-$2.31
Tex East M3 $2.34-$2.425 $2.2350-$2.46
Transco Z6 $2.37-$2.47 $2.32-$2.49
SoCal $2.19-$2.33 $2.18-$2.26
El Paso Perm $2.19-$2.23 $2.15-$2.23
El Paso SJ $2.07-$2.15 $2.05-$2.12
Waha $2.24-$2.30 $2.22-$2.27
Katy $2.22-$2.26 $2.22-$2.28
-By Dan Strumpf, Dow Jones Newswires; 212-416-2818; firstname.lastname@example.org