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Cold weather likely to help natural gas prices

The Associated Press

A recent run of cold weather across much of the U.S. and will likely keep natural gas prices up, according to Raymond James analysts.

Natural gas prices have risen 12 percent this month and have helped lift shares of some oil and gas companies. Range Resources, which specializes in natural gas exploration and production, has seen its stock surge 5 percent.

Ultra Petroleum Corp. has climbed 20 percent and EQT Corp., 6 percent. By comparison the Standard & Poor's 500 index has climbed 2.7 percent in March.

This winter was the 20th warmest on records going back to 1880, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. But March may be different, at least compared to last year.

NOAA reported that the week ending March 15 was much cooler than the same week in 2012 and below the long-term average. "If you haven't noticed the weather outside, you may have noticed by the number of congested co-workers walking around the office ... the weather has gotten a little chilly the past few weeks," analysts led by J. Marshall Adkins said in their report.

The analysts said that with cold weather extending into early spring, demand for natural gas will likely stay strong.

The government said Thursday that the country's natural gas supplies shrank last week. The Energy Department's Energy Information Administration reported that natural gas in storage dropped by 62 billion cubic feet to 1.876 trillion cubic feet for the week ended March 15.That's 21 percent below last year's level of 2.3 trillion cubic feet, but 10 percent above the five-year average.

In Friday trading, natural gas fell about a penny to $3.93 per 1,000 cubic feet in New York. A year ago, natural gas prices were below $2.50.