MARKET WATCH
Oil futures fall on mild weather forecasts, approaching holidays

OGJ editors
HOUSTON, Dec. 22 -- Oil futures prices slipped during Friday trading in New York upon milder US weather forecasts and also upon the approaching Christmas holiday.

On Monday, Indonesia's Oil Minister Purnomo Yusgiantoro told Reuters that he was concerned about sustained high prices. He takes office as OPEC president on Jan. 1.

"Currently, the oil price is too high, especially the OPEC basket. We hope the oil price will fall in January. However, developments will depend on the weather and also depend on developments in Iraq," Reuters reported Purnomo as saying. "I will see developments through early January. If oil prices stay high, I will consult other OPEC ministers."

Energy prices
The January contract for benchmark sweet, light crudes on the New York Mercantile Exchange Friday settled at $33.02/bbl, down by 69¢. The February contract also closed at $33.02/bbl, down 73¢.

On the US spot market, West Texas Intermediate at Cushing, Okla., dropped 70¢ to $33.03/bbl.

Heating oil for January lost 2.63¢ to 93.79¢/gal Friday on NYMEX. Unleaded gasoline for the same month plunged 2.03¢ to 90.69¢/gal.

The January natural gas contract pulled back 14¢ to $6.98/Mcf Friday, pressured by a softer weekend physical market, profit-taking strategies, and milder weather forecasts, Enerfax Daily analysts said Monday.

"Mostly mild weather forecasts for this week helped pressure cash and futures today, particularly with the Christmas holiday later this week that typically means less industrial demand," Enerfax analysts said. "Most manufacturing plants, which account for more than a third of all natural gas demand, close during the Christmas and New Year's holidays."

Gas traders also cited profit taking as the major reason for the Friday price decline, saying that market participants were reluctant to hold positions during the weekend because they did not believe that fundamentals could support the current price level.

Other energy prices
In London, the February contact for North Sea Brent oil lost 75¢ to $30.05/bbl Friday on the International Petroleum Exchange. Gas oil for January delivery lost $10.75/tonne to $265.50/tonne.

The January natural gas contract lost 6¢ to the equivalent of $5.96/Mcf on IPE. Meanwhile, the dollar continued to lose value against European currencies.

The average price for the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries' basket of seven benchmark crudes on Friday declined by 2¢ to $30.71/bbl.

The OPEC Secretariat said the basket price through Dec. 18 averaged $28.04/bbl for the year. For the month of December, the basket price averaged $29.37/bbl, as opposed to $28.45/bbl in November, and $28.54/bbl in October.

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