A 10-month slide in natural gas prices took a breather after the government said U.S. supplies didn't grow as much as expected last week.
The futures contract price slipped by just a tenth of a penny Thursday to finish at $1.983 per 1,000 cubic feet in New York. That's a 10-year low, but the prices was relatively stable compared with Wednesday, when fears of surging supplies sent natural gas futures tumbling 2.3 percent to the lowest price since Jan. 28, 2002.
Natural gas prices have been falling since last June.
Prices leveled off after the Energy Information Administration reported that last week's growth in supplies was less than analysts expected. U.S. supplies are still about 59 percent higher than the five-year average, however, because of booming production and weak demand.
Oil prices also rose Thursday on fresh signs of a strengthening economy.
Benchmark West Texas Intermediate crude gained 94 cents to finish at $103.64 a barrel in New York. Brent crude, which prices oil imported by U.S. refineries, added $1.65 to end at $121.52 per barrel in London.
Analysts pointed to signs of strength in China, the world's second-largest economy, where the central bank reported a surprising jump in new loans. U.S. businesses also sold more goods abroad, pushing exports to an all-time high. And the Fed has said it will keep interest rates low into 2014 as the economy recovers.
U.S. retail gasoline prices continued to slide, losing nearly 3 cents in the past week to a national average of $3.91 per gallon, according to AAA, Wright Express and Oil Price Information Service. While the relentless rise in pump prices has paused, forecasters _ including those at the Energy Information Administration _ said the average for gasoline could still top the $4 mark over the next several weeks.
In other energy trading, heating oil added 5.14 cents to finish at $3.1663 per gallon and gasoline futures increased by 6.12 cents to end at $3.3567 per gallon.
Follow Chris Kahn on Twitter at http://twitter.com/ChrisKahnAP.
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