Natural gas highest since February


OIL prices were mixed yesterday after falling most of the week. Benchmark US crude increased by 27 cents to end the day at US$97.08 per barrel in New York, while Brent crude fell by 47 cents to finish at US$112.73 per barrel in London.

Oil has been mostly declining since April as some European countries fell into recession and the US reported disappointing jobs growth. Benchmark US oil has fallen 5.8 percent since April. Brent crude has dropped by 8.3 percent.

Analysts say oil prices should also keep falling this summer if world oil supplies grow as expected. OPEC increased oil production by 320,000 barrels per day in April, according to Platts, the energy-information arm of McGraw-Hill Cos. OPEC's biggest producer, Saudi Arabia, plans to crank up production even further in an effort to push oil prices lower.

Meanwhile, the price of US natural gas jumped to the highest level since February as companies shut down production across the country.

Natural gas futures rose 2.2 cents to US$2.487 per 1,000 cubic feet yesterday, extending a recent surge. The price has soared 30.4 percent since hitting a 10-year low on April 19.

The run-up could marginally boost energy costs for power plants, factories and other industrial consumers that are big users of natural gas. But the price is still about 40 percent cheaper than a year ago, and the recent jump isn't expected to affect residential electricity bills this summer.

Declining oil prices could take some pressure off a world economy that's struggling to grow. The price of US gasoline, which follows oil has dropped by nearly 20 cents since peaking on April 6 at US$3.936 per gallon. The decline amounts to savings of about US$2 to US$3 per fill-up, enough to cut America's gasoline spending by US$73.1 million per day.

In other futures trading, heating oil lost 1.57 cents to end at US$2.9834 per gallon and wholesale gasoline fell by 1.39 cents to finish at US$3.0102 per gallon.

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