Market watch, Dec. 28


Natural gas prices continued to climb, but other international energy futures were mixed Wednesday.

The January natural gas contract gained 17.3� to $9.978/Mcf on the New York Mercantile Exchange.

Earlier, the American Gas Association reported withdrawals from US underground storage for the week ended Tuesday totaled 175 bcf, compared with withdrawals of 173 bcf in the same period last year and 167 bcf in 1998.

That leaves US gas storage levels at 632 bcf�25% lower than at the same period last year and at record low levels for this point in the winter heating season, said Robert Morris, senior energy analyst at Salomon Smith Barney Inc.

Moreover, the unusually low temperatures experienced so far this winter seem likely to continue into January. As a result, US gas storage might test its limitations at the 500 bcf threshold, �resulting in physical shortages of natural gas near the end of this season,� Morris said.

The February contract for benchmark US light, sweet crudes dipped 17� to $26.47/bbl on the NYMEX, while the March contract was down 19� to $25.86/bbl.

However, the January contract for home heating oil edged up 0.21� to 93.71�/gal, while unleaded gasoline for the same month declined 0.7� to 75.34�/gal.

In London, the February contract for North Sea Brent crude rose 38� to $24.04/bbl on the International Petroleum Exchange. The January natural gas contract increased 11� to the equivalent of $4.43/Mcf on the IPE.

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