Natural gas prices surged 10 percent on Friday, hitting their highest level in nearly four years as cold temperatures in the United States continued to boost demand, while U.S. crude futures fell on weak Chinese economic data and Wall Street’s decline. The rally in natural gas and a small gain in gold, which posted a fifth consecutive weekly gain, lifted commodities as a whole. The Thomson Reuters/Core Commodity Index, a benchmark for global commodities made up of 19 components, rose about 0.5 percent. Brutally cold weather hovering over the eastern United States pushed front-month natural gas futures prices to their highest point since February 2010. That cold has increased the demand for natural gas to heat homes and businesses, surprising the market despite expectations early in the season for some below-normal cold.”This winter looked to be slightly colder than normal, but no one was really screaming for this kind of cold weather,” said Aaron Calder, a market analyst at Gelber & Associates. February natural gas futures on the New York Mercantile Exchange settled up 45.2 cents, or 9.6 percent, at $5.182. U.S. equities dropped on Friday following a selloff in emerging market assets and on growth concerns in China and expectations that the Federal Reserve will further cut stimulus. European Brent crude climbed, while U.S. crude oil futures settled down 68 cents at $96.64 per barrel.
GOLD POSTS FIVE-WEEK RISE
Spot gold rose to a two-month high on Friday, notching its fifth consecutive weekly gain as a global flight from emerging-market assets and declines in equities increased bullion’s safe-haven appeal.
Among industrial metals, copper fell to its lowest in a month and struck its biggest weekly fall since mid-November as slowing growth in China’s factories fueled worries about demand in the world’s top metals consumer.
In agricultural commodities, wheat futures slid more than 1 percent in a profit-taking setback following the steepest rally in three months the previous session on worries that a cold snap in the Midwest and Plains could damage the dormant winter crop.
Raw and white sugar futures firmed after nearing multiyear lows, while cocoa pared gains after tapping one-month highs following Thursday’s rally.
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