Natural gas closed with strong gains on Tuesday, briefly cracking the $3 mark for the first time in more than a week on colder weather and options expiration. The front-month February contract settled up 10 cents, or 3.5%, at $2.981 a million British thermal units on the New York Mercantile Exchange. Trading went as high as $3.005/mmBtu, highest in intraday trading since Jan. 16. The more actively traded March contract settled up 8.7 cents, or 3%, at $2.935/mmBtu. Options expired at close and the February contract expires Wednesday at close. Many options traders sold puts with a $3 strike price, and they had an incentive to bid up the futures contract Tuesday to avoid paying out on their options deal, said Aaron Calder, senior market analyst at energy-consulting firm Gelber & Associates in Houston. Colder weather helped, too. The blizzard that hit the Northeast is part […]