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Natural gas futures fell for the first time in three days on speculation that cold weather in the U.S. Midwest and Northeast won't be as protracted as previously forecast.

An Arctic front that had been expected to sweep into the central and eastern states by the middle of next week may take a day or two longer to arrive, Earth Satellite Corp. said.

"I don't think we'll be in bad shape as far as stockpiles are concerned," said Howard Patton of National Fuel Gas Supply Corp. in Buffalo.

Gas for February delivery fell 20.4 cents (U.S.), or 2.9 per cent, to $6.878 per million British thermal units on the New York Mercantile Exchange.

Prices have surged in the past year as production from North American wells declined and demand rose. Over all, gas is up 34 per cent from a year ago and has been above $6 for 21 sessions, the longest stretch above $6 in three years.

In other markets, copper futures fell when Chile's Codelco said it will sell its stockpiles after global inventories declined, and cattle futures rose.

State-owned Codelco, the world's largest copper producer, has been holding back 200,000 tons of the metal to help push prices higher. Copper futures last year jumped 49 per cent, their biggest gain since 1994. The company decided to sell the stockpiled copper after global supplies fell, Codelco President Juan Villarzu said at a press conference in Santiago.

Copper for March delivery fell four-10ths of a cent to $1.0665 a pound in New York. But prices are still 45 per cent higher than a year earlier, and had risen nearly half a cent before Mr. Villarzu's comments.

Cattle futures rose in Chicago on expectations trading partners will be more willing to ease bans on U.S. beef after DNA tests showed the animal found with mad-cow disease in Washington state had been born in Canada.

"The DNA results are going to help get our BSE-free status back, and longer term, help our exports markets," said Troy Vetterkind, a cattle trader at E-Hedger LLC in Chicago. U.S. beef exports are valued at up to $3.8-billion a year.

Cattle for February delivery rose 1.5 cents, or 2 per cent, to 75.4 cents a pound on the Chicago Mercantile Exchange.

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