NEW YORK -- Energy prices drifted lower yesterday as warm weather persisted throughout the Northeast amid expectations that US oil reserves are sufficient for increased demand this winter.
But while analysts forecast expanding supplies of petroleum products used to heat homes and fuel vehicles, estimates for diminishing natural gas inventories and harsh Midwest weather sent natural gas futures climbing.
''A large consuming area in the Midwest is going to experience a relatively significant degree of cold weather, and that is going to help support these prices," said John Kilduff, senior vice president of energy risk management at Fimat USA Inc., of gains in natural gas futures.
Kilduff said many continue to worry that Gulf Coast natural gas output is not enough to meet a projected usage spike.
The Minerals Management Service yesterday said 29.9 percent of daily Gulf Coast gas production remains offline; about 13.5 percent of annual output has been affected since the hurricanes.
Natural gas futures rose 10.2 cents to settle at $11.736 per 1,000 cubic feet on the New York Mercantile Exchange.
Elsewhere on the Nymex, a barrel of light, sweet crude for January delivery lost 86 cents to finish at $56.50.
In London, January Brent crude was off 56 cents at $54.32 on the ICE Futures exchange.
Oil prices have eased recently as mild weather pervaded the Northeast states, which consume three-quarters of the nation's heating oil as the biggest global market for that type of fuel.
Heating oil and gasoline futures sank as analysts estimated growing supplies of distillate fuels. On the Nymex, heating oil dropped 2.6 cents to $1.61 per gallon, and gasoline lost 2.3 cents to $1.395 a gallon.