Bitter cold pushes natural gas prices to record highs

The brutally cold winter weather has led to record high natural gas prices in the Northeast. Cheese prices also continue to climb, and are up nearly 40 cents since early December.

Conversely, wheat prices continue to tumble, and gas prices are steady. Here is a breakdown of costs from the past week:

Cheese

Cheese prices have shown no signs of letting up, jumping 6 more cents last week on the Chicago Mercantile to average $2.27. The week prior, cheese averaged $2.21.

Prices were $1.89 in early December.

Last week, prices closed at $2.24 Tuesday, $2.27 Wednesday, $2.29 Thursday and $2.31 on Friday. Markets were closed Monday to recognize the Martin Luther King Jr. holiday.

Wheat

Meanwhile, wheat prices continued to fall last week on the Minneapolis Grain Exchange and are at their lowest level in years, averaging $6.14, from $6.18 the week prior.

Wheat was more than $7.50 two months ago.

Prices closed at $6.13 Tuesday, $6.16 Wednesday, $6.17 Thursday and $6.13 on Friday.

Gasoline and diesel fuel

The nationwide average price for regular unleaded fuel today is $3.28, even from $3.28 the week prior. According to the AAA and the Oil Price Information Service, prices a month ago were $3.30.

Last year at this time, consumers were paying $3.34 at the pump.

Today's mid-range unleaded is $3.46, from $3.46 the week prior. Premium gas is $3.63, from $3.63 last week.

Diesel fuel prices are averaging $3.86, up a penny from $3.85 the week prior. The price of diesel fuel was $3.86 a month ago and $3.90 last year.

Natural gas

Natural gas spot prices increased in most of the country, particularly in the Northeast, where prices rose to record highs on extremely cold weather in high-population areas. The Henry Hub spot price increased from $4.44/MMBtu on Jan. 15, to $4.91/MMBtu Jan. 22.

At the New York Mercantile Exchange, the February 2014 futures contract rose from $4.325/MMBtu Jan. 15 to $4.689/MMBtu Jan. 22. The near-month futures price is currently above the 12-month strip (the average of the February 2014 through January 2015 contracts).

Pizza company stocks

Shares of Pizza Hut parent Yum! Brands Inc. closed out last week at $69.80, down $2.50 from $72.30 the week prior and down $5.25 from two weeks ago. The company hit a new 52-week high in November, at $78.68. Its 52-week low was in early February 2013, at $59.68.

Domino's finished last week at $72.85, up from $71.08 the week prior. DPZ hit a new 52-week high last week at $73.41. Its 52-week low was $44.45 a year ago.

Papa John's shares finished last week at $48.57, up from $47.39 the week prior. PZZA hit a new all-time high of $49.33 earlier last week. Its low of $24.94 was a year ago. Analysts attribute the lift to revenue growth, solid stock price performance, a strong record of earnings per share growth, an increase in net income and "reasonable" valuation levels.

CEC Entertainment Inc., parent company of Chuck E. Cheese restaurants, closed out last week at $54.15, down slightly from $54.75 the week prior, following official news of its sale to Apollo Global Management. CEC hit a new 52-week-high earlier last week at $55.14. Its annual low was a year ago at $28.95.

Pizza Inn Holdings closed out last week at $7.89, down from $8.09 the week prior. The company's 52-week-high was $9.18 in May. It traded as low as $3.03 a year ago.

Read more about food cost management.

Photo courtesy of Flickr user Tod Baker.

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