Light holiday demand pressures US spot natural gas prices                                    2 hours ago by Thomson Reuters

* Demand moderate this holiday week despite colder weather    * Near-record-high storage, production also weigh on prices    * Above-average nuclear plant outages help limit downside    NEW YORK, Dec 24 (Reuters) - U.S. spot natural gas priceslost ground on Monday, pressured by prospects for light holidaydemand despite forecasts for colder weather this week thatshould stir more heating.     While it is colder this week across much of the nation,traders noted that demand during the Christmas and New Yearholiday weeks typically moderates regardless of weather becausemany schools and businesses are closed.    New York Mercantile Exchange floor trading closed early onMonday at 1:30 p.m. EST (1830 GMT) and will remain shut onTuesday for Christmas.        Gas for Dec. 25-26 delivery at Henry Hub <NG-W-HH>, a keysupply point in Louisiana, fell 12 cents to $3.30 per millionBritish thermal units. Mid-morning Hub differentials weakenedslightly to 7 cents under NYMEX futures from a 4-cent discounton Friday.    The daily Hub average is below the December monthly index of$3.70 but above the year-ago price of $2.97. The Hub posted a2-1/2-month low of $3.15 just 10 days ago.    In major consumer markets, prices on Transco pipeline at theNew York City gate <NG-NYCZ6> slipped 14 cents to $3.96 despitethe colder weather this week. Chicago <NG-CHGC> was 11 cents lower at $3.39.    Commodity Weather Group expects a cold pattern to continuefor most of the United States for the next two weeks, but manytraders remained skeptical about 10-day or 15-day forecasts,noting computer projections that far out have not been reliable,often flipping from warm to cold and back again.    If the weather stays cold, traders said gas prices couldgarner support from nuclear plant outages, which are stillrunning at about 11,600 megawatts this week, or nearly 5,000 MWabove average for this time of year. Gas-fired plants aretypically used to replace any lost nuclear generation.    But without sustained cold to boost heating loads, mosttraders agree it will be difficult for gas prices to push higherwith inventories still at record highs for this time of year andproduction at or near an all-time peak.                  GAS DRILLING GAINS, OUTPUT STILL NEAR RECORD    Drilling for natural gas has mostly been in decline for morethan a year, with gas rigs down 54 percent since peaking at 936 in October 2011. The Baker Hughes gas rig count posted a13-1/2-year low of 413 just six weeks ago, but so far productionhas not shown any significant sign of slowing.     (Rig graphic:    The U.S. Energy Information Administration recently said itexpected gas output in 2013 to rise to a record 69.59 billioncubic feet per day, the third straight annual record.        INVENTORIES DROP MORE THAN EXPECTED     EIA data last week showed gas inventories for the week endedDec. 14 fell by 82 bcf, but at 3.724 trillion cubic feet thetotal stocks were still at record highs for this time of year.    Storage is still hovering at 66 bcf, or nearly 2 percent,above the same year-ago week and 345 bcf, or 10 percent, abovethe five-year average.    (Storage graphic: )     The storage surpluses are expected to widen further inFriday's EIA report, with early withdrawal estimates rangingfrom 66 bcf to 84 bcf. That would be short of the 87 bcf pulledfrom inventory during the same week last year, while thefive-year average decline for that week is 140 bcf.     The EIA report will be delayed one day due to the holiday.    In New York Mercantile Exchange trade, front-month gasfutures ended down 10.5 cents at $3.346 per mmBtu,pressured by record high production and concerns winter will notturn out cold enough to whittle down high inventories.    Average prices at spot gas market points and previous dayprices follow (US$/mmBtu):                                      12/24/12            12/21/12          Henry Hub                           3.30                3.42                 New York citygate                   3.96                4.10                 Chicago citygate                    3.39                3.50                 Panhandle (mid-Continent)           3.16                3.26                 Northern at Demarcation  (Minn.)    3.36                3.45                 Southern California border          3.50                3.64                 Katy Hub (east Texas)               3.25                3.36                 Waha (west Texas)                   3.28                3.37                 Dominion-South (Appalachia region)  3.17                3.28                 Columbia TCO (Appalachia region)    3.22                3.35                    For more U.S. spot natural gas prices, click on <0#NG-US>      RELATED LINKS     - Canadian Spot Natural Gas Prices..............<0#NG-CA>     - U.S. Spot Gas versus Oil Comparisons..........     - BTU U.S. Spot Natural Gas Prices..............<0#NG-BTU>     - U.S. Nuclear Power Reactor Outage Table ......     - North American Power Plant Outage Table .....     - North American Power Transmission Table .....     - U.S. EEI Electricity Output Report ...........     - U.S. EEI Electricity Output Table ............ <EEI->     - NYMEX Natural Gas Futures .................... <0#NG:>     - NYMEX Crude Oil Futures .......................<0#CL:> (Reporting By Joe Silha; Editing by Bob Burgdorfer)