The U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA) said U.S. utilities pulled 59 billion cubic feet (bcf) of gas from storage during the week ended Dec. 3.
That was more than the 54-bcf withdrawal analysts forecast in a Reuters poll and compares with a decline of 78 bcf in the same week last year and a five-year (2016-2020) average decline of 55 bcf.
Last week’s withdrawal cut stockpiles to 3.505 trillion cubic feet (tcf), or 2.5% below the five-year average of 3.595 tcf for this time of year.
“The period of this storage announcement covers the weekend after Thanksgiving, and gas usage over holiday weekends is always difficult to predict,” Refinitiv analyst John Abeln said.
“So while there was a small bullish signal, it is not enough to cause significant market movement.”
Looking ahead, many analysts said mild weather expected in coming weeks will allow U.S. utilities to leave enough gas in storage and cause stockpiles to reach above normal levels by mid-December. That would be the first time since April that storage would be above normal levels.
Front-month gas futures fell 0.1 cents to settle at $3.814 per million British thermal units.
In recent months, global gas prices hit record highs as utilities around the world scrambled for liquefied natural gas (LNG) cargoes from the United States and elsewhere to replenish low stockpiles in Europe and meet surging demand in Asia, where energy shortfalls have caused power blackouts in China.
U.S. futures jumped to a 12-year high in early October but have since pulled back because the United States has plenty of gas in storage and ample production for winter. Overseas prices were currently trading about nine times higher than U.S. futures.
Analysts have said European inventories were about 20% below normal for this time of year, compared with just 2% below normal in the United States.
Data provider Refinitiv said output in the U.S. Lower 48 states has averaged 96.3 billion cubic feet per day (bcfd) so far in December, down from a monthly record of 96.5 bcfd in November.
With an unusual warming expected in mid-December, Refinitiv projected average U.S. gas demand, including exports, would drop from 117.0 bcfd this week to 110.3 bcfd next week. Those forecasts were higher than Refinitiv’s outlook on Wednesday.
The amount of gas flowing to U.S. LNG export plants has averaged 11.9 bcfd so far in December now that the sixth train at Cheniere Energy Inc’s (LNG.A) Sabine Pass plant in Louisiana is producing LNG. That compares to 11.4 bcfd in November and a monthly record of 11.5 bcfd in April.
With gas prices around $33 per mmBtu in Europe and $35 in Asia , compared with about $4 in the United States, traders said buyers around the world would keep purchasing all the LNG the United States can produce.