12-09-2016  9:20 am      •     

Warmer than usual temperatures this winter meant homeowners used less natural gas for heating.

NEW YORK (AP) -- Natural gas prices fell again Tuesday amid doubts that consumers, businesses or industry can put a significant dent in the huge surplus of the fuel in the U.S.

Natural gas futures fell 2.3 cents to $2.20 per 1,000 cubic feet after dropping 5 cents on Monday. That's a 10-year low and half of what natural gas was fetching back in July. Oversupply and mild winter weather have contributed to the plunge.

Any money that consumers are saving on natural gas may be going into the gasoline tank. The national average for regular gasoline in the U.S. is $3.90 per gallon. It's risen 17 cents in March and 62 cents since Jan. 1.

A private research group said Tuesday that a widely watched barometer of consumer confidence barely budged in March as high pump prices helped offset good news in the stock market. Since Jan. 31, the national average for gas has either risen or been unchanged on 53 of 56 days.

Meanwhile oil prices were down slightly. Benchmark U.S. crude oil fell 14 cents to $106.90 per barrel. In London, Brent crude for May delivery fell 45 cents to $125.20 per barrel on the ICE Futures exchange.

Oil prices remain high because of ongoing tension over Iran's nuclear program. Oil has jumped from $75 a barrel in October because of concern that a military strike by Israel or the U.S. against Iran's nuclear facilities would disrupt global crude supplies.

Natural gas supplies are currently more than 50 percent above the five-year average for this time of year. That's due to a boom in production in Pennsylvania, Ohio, Texas and others states. Warmer than usual temperatures this winter also meant homeowners used less natural gas for heating than in years past.

Shiyang Wang, an analyst at Barclays Bank PLC, said in a research report that the market has turned its attention to whether the surplus gas in storage could be absorbed by hot summer weather and utilities opting to use cheap gas for power generation instead of coal. If storage is still abundant as summer ends, prices could remain low in October and November, the analyst said.

In other energy trading, heating oil fell 2 cents to $3.21 per gallon and gasoline futures dropped 3 cents to $3.39 per gallon.

----

Alex Kennedy in Singapore and Pablo Gorondi in Budapest contributed to this report.

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