Forecasts pointing to somewhat weaker demand through next week helped push natural gas futures lower in early trading Thursday as the market prepared to turn its attention to the latest government inventory data. The October Nymex contract was off 1.7 cents to $2.620/MMBtu shortly after 8:30 a.m. ET.

Estimates have been pointing to a near- or slightly below-average build from this week’s Energy Information Administration (EIA) storage report, scheduled for release at 10:30 a.m. ET. A Reuters survey produced a 78 Bcf consensus, with predictions ranging from 71 Bcf up to 85 Bcf.

Intercontinental Exchange EIA Financial Weekly Index futures settled Wednesday at an injection of 81 Bcf. NGI’s model predicted a 79 Bcf build.

Last year, EIA recorded an 84 Bcf build for the period, which covers the week ended Sept. 13. The five-year average is an injection of 82 Bcf.

“It was hotter than normal over most of the U.S. besides the far North and portions of the West” during this week’s EIA report period, NatGasWeather said. “Our algorithm predicts a build of 79-80 Bcf, likely a touch bearish to expectations.”

As for the overnight weather data, the forecaster said guidance dropped some demand from the outlook through next week while adding more consumption in the last few days of September.

“Overall, no major changes, with the data continuing to show a bearish end of September into an early October pattern” as degree day totals look to run close to normal, NatGasWeather said. That may be enough, it said, to increase upcoming weekly storage builds into the 90s Bcf range or even triple digits.

“The overnight data maintained a warm versus normal southern and eastern U.S. pattern to start October, but the longer this warmer than normal pattern holds, the more bearish it becomes.”

Looking at Wednesday’s price action, analysts at EBW Analytics Group said natural gas “showed clear signs of weakening,” with the front month peaking early at $2.696, shy of the previous session’s intraday high, before selling off for much of the rest of the day.

“Since there is no other strong near-term catalyst, the new storage report could have an out-sized impact on today’s trading,” the EBW analysts said. “Most major surveys predict a build of 78 Bcf. Our forecast is slightly lower. Even a slight bullish miss could briefly push prices back up. The longer-term trend, however, is likely to remain downward.”

October crude oil futures were up $1.23 to $59.34/bbl just after 8:30 a.m. ET, while October RBOB gasoline was trading about 5.2 cents higher at $1.7092/gal.