MARKET WATCH: Energy prices fall in last two sessions before holiday

Energy prices generally fell Dec. 21 and 24 in low-trading sessions before Christmas, but oil and gas prices overall were up last week, especially after the report of a bigger-than-expected withdrawal of natural gas from US underground storage.

Analysts in the Houston office of Raymond James & Associates Inc. reported crude prices were flat Dec. 24 while natural gas was down 3% on expectations the next report on gas inventories will show a seasonally weak withdrawal from storage. Markets remained weak in early trading Dec. 26 with Congress still on vacation less than a week before the fiscal cliff of automatic tax increases and spending cuts is to kick in.

Still, a widespread cold front brought freezing temperatures to much of the Midwest and snow even to parts of Texas on Christmas day as it moved toward the US Northeast. As a result, weather prognosticators say the Northeast may ring in a colder-than-normal New Year.

The equity market was down Dec. 26 after major retailers reported Christmas sales of electronics, clothing, jewelry, and home goods were up only 0.7% in the 2 months leading up to the holiday, the worst showing since the Great Recession of 2008. That disappointing data overshadowed increased home prices in most major US cities in October as the supply of available homes declined.

Energy prices

The February contract for benchmark US light, sweet crudes fell $1.47 on Dec. 21 and lost another 5¢ to $88.61/bbl Dec. 24 on the New York Mercantile Exchange. The March contract lost a total $1.52 over the two sessions to $89.17/bbl. On the US spot market, West Texas Intermediate at Cushing, Okla., followed the front-month crude contract down to $88.61/bbl.

Heating oil for January delivery lost 5.53¢ overall to $3/gal on NYMEX. Reformulated stock for oxygenate blending for the same month was down 1.96¢ Dec. 21 but regained 1.59¢ Dec. 24 to $2.75/gal.

The January natural gas contract dropped 11.6¢ over the 2 days to $3.35/MMbtu on NYMEX. On the US spot market, gas at Henry Hub, La., rose 6.2¢ Dec. 21 but dropped 12.2¢ Dec. 24 to $3.28/MMbtu.

In London, the February IPE contract for North Sea Brent declined a total $1.40 to $108.80/bbl. Gas oil for January lost a sum of $13.75 to $927.50/tonne.

The offices of the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries were closed, with no price updates available.

Contact Sam Fletcher at samf@ogjonline.com.

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