A report released Tuesday by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration showed that January was the fourth-warmest on record for the lower 48 states. Warm temperatures have sapped heating demand for natural gas, causing headaches for already-bloated storage facilities. Under the weight of heavy supplies and milder spring weather just around the corner, natural gas prices puttered this week near 10-year lows, trading Friday at $2.47 per million British thermal units.
Unlike natural gas, the price for heating oil has been rising sharply this winter. Much of the rise has been linked to Middle East unrest and refinery shut-downs in the U.S., suggesting that supplies could be limited in the future. Despite the fact that few homes in the Midwest heat using heating oil, the price is still important to every consumer, as the fuel is interchangeable with diesel fuel. As of midday Friday, heating oil for March delivery was worth $3.18 per gallon, up 27 cents on the year (+9.4 percent).
See-Saw in Europe
For most of the week, the European currency rallied sharply on expectations that European Union leaders would be able to craft a plan to help Greece avoid default, pushing the Euro to a three-month high on Thursday at $1.3325. A wave of jubilation was also felt in U.S. equities, with the Dow Jones Industrial Average surging to highs not seen since 2008.
By Friday morning, it appeared that the deal was falling apart, sending stocks and the Euro southward. Some Greek political leaders announced that they would not support the plan's strict austerity measures, while other European Finance Ministers increased demands that Greeks solidify spending cuts. Furthermore, a 48-hour workers' strike began in Greece, indicating that civil unrest could continue to create pressure on Greek politicians.
By mid-morning Friday, the Euro was trading under $1.32, and the Dow Jones had pulled back 200 points from its 44-month high.
Cotton prices fell to a new low for the year on Friday morning, dropping under 90 cents per pound. A USDA report released Thursday showed decreasing demand for U.S. cotton, pushing prices down more than 6 cents (-7 percent) this week. After hitting an all-time high last March at $2.27, cotton prices have reversed sharply lower due to increased production and diminished expectations for Chinese demand.
Nonetheless, some analysts warn that continued drought in Texas could hamper this year's crop, putting nearly a third of U.S. production at risk.