Unseasonably cold weather in US pushed the price of natural gas up 4 per cent this week

NEW YORK, N.Y. – Cold weather pushed natural gas prices sharply higher this week and analysts say the gains could continue.

On Friday natural gas futures ended slightly lower. The actively traded January contract edged down 2 cents, or 0.4 per cent, to $4.12 per 1,000 cubic feet. It’s still up 4 per cent this week and hit a six-month high the day before.

Natural gas jumped Thursday after the Energy Department reported a sharp decrease in natural gas supplies due to the cold weather. Half of all homes in the U.S. use natural gas as a heating source, making it by far the most popular source of heat in the country.

Natural gas in storage fell by 162 billion cubic feet last week, compared with analysts’ expectations for a decline of 143 billion cubic feet.

Analysts at Barclays Capital said the cold is affecting natural gas prices two ways. Consumption is higher because more Americans are using more to heat their homes. Very low temperatures in Texas could also impact the production of natural gas there.

Heating oil, which is used primarily in the Northeast, rose 1 per cent this week. On Friday, heating oil rose less than a cent to $3.057 a gallon. Wholesale gasoline rose 1 cent to $2.727 a gallon.

Crude oil rose 27 cents, or 0.3 per cent, to $97.65 a barrel.

In agricultural commodities, wheat for March delivery fell 1 cent, or 0.2 per cent, to $6.51 a bushel. January soybeans fell 2.5 cents, or 0.2 per cent, to $13.255 a bushel and March corn rose less than a cent to $4.343 a bushel.

In metals, February gold fell $2.90, or 0.2 per cent, to $1,229 an ounce and March silver fell 5 cents, or 0.2 per cent, to $19.52 an ounce.

High-grade copper for March delivery rose 2 cents, or 0.6 per cent, to $3.249 a pound. January platinum fell $7.20, or 0.5 per cent, to $1,356.30 an ounce and palladium for March delivery fell 70 cents, or 0.1 per cent, to $736.15 an ounce.