NEW YORK, Jan 22 (Reuters) - U.S. natural gas futures jumped more than 5 percent on Wednesday as frigid temperatures pushed prices to a 2-1/2-year high, while crude oil rose nearly 2 percent and soybeans recovered from a two-month low on bargain hunting. The Thomson Reuters/Core Commodity Index, a benchmark for global commodities made up of 19 components, rose to a three-week high, shrugging off a firm U.S. dollar that would typically weigh on prices. It closed up 0.77 percent at 280.5328, the highest since Dec. 31. The stronger greenback weighed on gold, which extended its fall from the prior session, while copper prices also dropped on concerns that the U.S. Federal Reserve could further cut monetary stimulus next week. U.S. natural gas futures spiked, leading the day's gains as freezing temperatures in the U.S. Northeast this week continued to drive prices to the highest levels since July 2011. Front-month natural gas futures on the New York Mercantile Exchange closed up 25.8 cents, or 5.82 percent, at $4.689 per million British thermal units, its biggest percent rise in 15 months, according to Reuters data. Also buoyed by frigid temperatures that brought the expectation for strong heating fuel demand, U.S. crude oil futures closed up $1.76, or 1.85 percent at $96.73/bbl. Brent oil for March delivery closed up $1.54, or 1.4 percent, at $108.27/bbl. The start up of a new major pipeline expected to eliminate a bottleneck that has depressed U.S. futures for three years also provided some support. U.S. soybeans closed mostly higher, after falling to a two-month low on improving South American crop prospects and chart-based selling, attracting bargain hunters on strong near-term demand and firm cash soymeal prices. Benchmark Chicago Board of Trade March soybean futures closed down 1 cent at $12.79-1/2 a bushel, after hitting the lowest level for the front-month contract since November at $12.72. Deferred contracts ended firm. Spot gold edged down 0.38 percent to $1,236.34 per ounce on the day by 4:34 p.m. EST (2134 GMT), while U.S. COMEX gold futures for February delivery settled down $3.20 at $1,238.60 an ounce. Three-month copper on the London Metal Exchange dropped 0.65 percent to close at $7,292 a tonne, with weakness limited by tight short-term availability of metal on the physical market.
Prices at 4:36 p.m. EDT (2136 GMT)
LAST/ NET PCT CLOSE CHG CHG US crude 96.58 1.61 1.7% Brent crude 108.16 1.43 1.3% Natural gas 4.306 0.002 0.0% US gold 1238.00 -0.60 0.0% Gold 1236.25 -4.86 -0.4% US Copper 3.36 -0.02 -0.7% LME Copper 7325.00 10.00 0.1% Dollar 81.202 0.104 0.1% CRB 277.104 0.574 0.2% US corn 427.75 4.25 1.0% US soybeans 1296.75 7.50 0.6% US wheat 605.75 0.00 0.0% US Coffee 121.00 4.65 4.0% US Cocoa 2667.00 -32.00 -1.2% US Sugar 16.08 0.00 0.0% US platinum 1413.70 2.20 0.0% US palladium 738.50 7.30 1.0%
(Editing by Meredith Mazzilli)