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Natural Gas Advances to Eight-Week High

Natural gas futures climbed to an eight-week high in New York on speculation that government data today will show that inventories of the fuel rose by less than average last week, leaving supplies at an 11-year seasonal low.

Gas gained as much as 1.6 percent. A report due at 10:30 a.m. in Washington may say stockpiles increased by 44 billion cubic feet last week, compared with the five-year average gain of 47 billion, according to the median of 22 analyst estimates compiled by Bloomberg. Supplies totaled 850 billion as of April 11, the lowest for that period since 2003, government data show.

“This storage report is going to be a reminder that producers have a long way to go to get back to normal inventories,” said Phil Flynn, a senior market analyst at Price Futures Group in Chicago. “The market is leaning toward the upside.”

Natural gas for May delivery rose 4 cents, or 0.9 percent, to $4.77 per million British thermal units at 9:45 a.m. on the New York Mercantile Exchange after earlier climbing to $4.805 per million Btu, the highest intraday price since Feb. 26. Volume for all futures traded was 46 percent below the 100-day average. The futures are up 13 percent this year.

Williams Cos. halted natural gas supplies to interstate pipelines from its Opal plant in Wyoming, a major processing point and pricing hub for the fuel in the western U.S., after an explosion that triggered a town-wide evacuation.

Gas Explosion

Natural gas gathering from surrounding areas stopped after the blast, which occurred at about 2 p.m. local time yesterday, Williams said in a statement. No injuries were reported and an investigation into the cause of the incident will start when it’s safe to return to the plant, which was recently processing about 1 billion cubic feet a day, according to the company.

U.S. gas stockpiles were 54.3 percent below the five-year average and 50 percent less than the year-earlier total as of April 11, the Energy Information Administration, the Energy Department’s statistical arm, said in last week’s supply report.

Inventories may reach 3.422 trillion cubic feet at the end of October, down 392 billion from a year earlier, the EIA said April 8 in its monthly Short-Term Energy Outlook report.

MDA Weather Services in Gaithersburg, Maryland, predicted cooler-than-normal weather across most of the eastern two-thirds of the U.S. from April 29 through May 3.

The low in Chicago on April 30 may be 41 degrees Fahrenheit (5 Celsius), 6 less than average, according to AccuWeather Inc. in State College, Pennsylvania. Cleveland temperatures may fall to 45 degrees, 3 lower than usual.

About 49 percent of U.S. households use gas for heating, with the biggest share in the Midwest, EIA data show.

Commodity Weather Group LLC in Bethesda, Maryland, said December through February was the coldest for that period in the lower-48 states since the winter of 1981-1982, based on energy-weighted heating degree days, a measure of weather-driven demand. Gas demand in January was the highest on record at 104 billion cubic feet a day, 12 percent above year-earlier consumption, according to the EIA.

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