Updated from 1:08 p.m. ESTEnergy prices fell Thursday, with natural gas tumbling and crude off too following the government's latest inventory report. Forecasts of bitterly cold weather overnight didn't help bolster the market. Near-dated contracts for light, sweet crude closed down $1.14 at $54.23 a barrel on the New York Mercantile Exchange. Natural gas lost 51 cents to $6.91 per million British thermal units. Heating oil shed 3 cents to $1.55, while gasoline lost 2 cents to $1.44 a gallon. Natural gas stocks fell marginally more than expected last week, according to new data from the Energy Information Administration. Inventories totaled 2.76 trillion cubic feet, down 179 billion cubic feet since the prior week, but still more than 20% higher than the average over the past five years of 2.29 trillion cubic feet. "I don't see any supply bottlenecks for natural gas," says Alan Mandel, a strategist at Alan M Trading in New York. He says prices, which were recently closer to $6 than $7, ran up in anticipation of a cold snap. "Now we are coming off those levels," he says. "There is ample supply." That cushion meant traders could largely ignore a frigid front descending on the East Coast. Temperatures are expected to dip into the teens Friday morning in New York City, and may hit single digits in New England.
Elsewhere, one observer sees the general weakness of the past couple of weeks continuing in oil. "We still think the price risk on crude is more to the downside," writes Edward Meir, an analyst at commodity broker Man Financial, in a research report. "The disconnect between comfortable -- and even rising -- inventories on the one hand, and colder weather on the other, is too glaring to ignore." In the energy patch, Wachovia initiated coverage on Range Resources ( RRC) with an outperform rating, but the stock still lost 2%. Canaccord Adams started its coverage of Double Eagle Petroleum ( DBLE) with a buy rating and a stock price target of $31. The shares fell 1.2% to $21.35. The energy exchange-traded funds United States Oil ( USO) and iPath Goldman Sachs Crude Oil ( OIL) dropped 1.8% and 1.7%, respectively.