Energy Prices Surge, Then Retreat

Energy prices fell on Friday, giving up a good chunk of the gains made in a rally the day before in anticipation of a winter storm that hit the Northeast.

Natural-gas futures retreated from record territory above $15 per 1,000 cubic feet, while oil futures dipped below $60 a barrel.

January natural gas futures declined by 69.4 cents to $14.33 on the New York Mercantile Exchange. On Thursday, the contract settled at a record high of $14.994, and in overnight electronic trading rose to a record $15.52.

Light sweet crude oil for January delivery fell $1.36 to $59.30 a barrel.

Broker Tom Bentz at BNP Paribas Commodity Futures in New York attributed Friday's selloff to profit-taking but said, in spite of the pullback, energy prices will remain high so long as colder temperatures hang around.

A storm that dumped as much as 10 inches of snow from Texas to Indiana hit the Northeast on Friday, shutting down schools and snarling traffic as commuters headed to work on slippery roads.

While the storm system lost steam as it crossed the Ohio Valley and western Pennsylvania early Friday, it was expected to merge with another one off the Virginia coast later in the day. Forecasters said the system would move up the coast, bringing as much as a foot of snow to New England.

"The price rise is all based on forecasts of cold weather to hit large portions of the United States," said Victor Shum, a Singapore-based analyst at energy consultants Purvin & Gertz. "The weather affects natural gas, but the (trading) psychology also affects the oil market."

In other Nymex trading, heating oil futures fell 6.07 cents to $1.7225 a gallon, and gasoline dipped by 2.16 cents to $1.605 a gallon.

"Winter has a long way to go," said Shum. "The market psychology supports a rather high price. This is only December; the anticipation of the continuation of colder weather will provide a high price floor."

The Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries meets Monday in Kuwait, where it may give hints about its pricing policy for next year. Most analysts are not expecting OPEC to cut output when it meets. Typically, the organization considers reducing output when stocks start building and prices fall.