Natural gas jumps 5.2%

SAN FRANCISCO – Crude-oil futures on Friday suffered from their first weekly loss in a month as US supplies continue to mount, but natural-gas prices rallied as much of the US experienced below-normal temperatures.

Oil for March delivery   gave up 82 cents, or 1.6%, to settle at US$50.34 barrel on the New York Mercantile Exchange. That was the lowest settlement price since Feb. 11.

For the week, the contract saw a 4.6% decline, its first loss since the week ended Jan. 23. The March contract expired at the Nymex close on Friday, and the new front-month contract CLJ5, -0.18%  — April crude — was down US$1.02, or 2%, to settle at US$50.84 a barrel.

Meanwhile, March natural gas NGH15, +2.27%  jumped 11.7 cents, or 4.1%, to settle at US$2.951 per million British thermal units, with the contract 5.2% higher on the week. This week, the U.S. has seen freezing temperatures, which look set to continue.

“Below-normal conditions seep across pretty much all of the U.S. like an ink blotch on the latest outlooks, set to stoke ongoing heating demand,” said Matt Smith, commodity analyst at Schneider Electric, in a note.

But while natural gas is again seeing buying interest, it has still been unable to reach “3 dollar-dom,” he said. On Friday, futures prices tapped a high of US$2.984.

According to the Energy Information Administration, working natural gas in storage as of Feb. 13 surpassed five-year storage levels for the first time in a year.

Heating oil also got a boost on the expectations for stronger heating-fuel demand. March heating oil HOH5, +4.07%  ended at US$2.112 a gallon, up 11.8 cents, or 5.9%. The contract was up 7.1% on the week.

Losses for oil seen this week came after U.S. supply data showed a surprisingly large inventory build-up.

“The big themes weighing upon crude prices remain in place over the long run,” said Richard Hastings, macro strategist at Global Hunter Securities.

One of the key reasons for the sharp oil slide in the last six months of 2014 was a supply glut that collided with weaker-than-expected demand. Crude is still down more than 50% from its recent peak of US$107 in June.

Baker Hughes BHI, -1.21%  on Friday reported that the number of U.S. rigs actively drilling for oil and natural gas as of Feb. 20 fell 48 rigs to 1,310. The number has seen significant declines in recent weeks, but that hasn’t been enough to put a dent in the nation’s supply glut.

The American Petroleum Institute report out on Wednesday showed U.S. crude supplies jumped a stunning 14.3 million barrels. On Thursday, U.S. Energy Information Administration released supply data that didn’t paint as bad a picture of the inventory rise, but still showed stockpiles rose more than forecast.

Brent oil for April LCOJ5, -0.08% settled nearly unchanged Friday at $60.22 a barrel on the ICE Futures exchange. For the week, it was 2% lower.

Back on Nymex, gasoline for March RBH5, +1.04%  nudged up by 2.5 cents, or 1.5%, to US$1.641 a gallon. At the retail level, prices for the fuel marked its 25th daily increase in a row, according to AAA.

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