Out Of Gas

Go ahead: Crank up the heat. Natural-gas prices have virtually collapsed, with February futures down 24% since the start of the year. Why? Look out the window. Utilities and other big gas buyers stocked up for an ugly winter like last year's, encouraged by strong domestic production and abundant Canadian imports. So far, they've seen only balmy conditions, which have cut into demand. That has made for "a worst-case scenario" for prices, says Smith Barney analyst John Saucer. Still, prices firmed on Jan. 16 and 17 with predictions of colder days ahead.

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