Crude futures falter on run to US$100 a barrel

  • Business
  • Thursday, 22 Nov 2007

NEW YORK (AP) - Crude oil futures closed down in choppy trading Wednesday, failing to breach $100 a barrel after the government reported that crude oil inventories at a key Midwest oil terminal rose for the first time in weeks.  

The news helped offset the market impact of an overall drop in crude oil stocks. 

Light, sweet crude for January delivery fell 74 cents to settle at $97.29 a barrel on the New York Mercantile Exchange. 

Stocks of distillates, including heating oil, also dropped more than expected last week, the Energy Department's Energy Information Administration reported. 

That could mean more bad news for heating oil customers already expecting costs to rise 22 percent this winter.  

Heating oil futures fell 0.27 cent to settle at $2.6874 a gallon on the New York Mercantile Exchange after earlier hitting $2.7154, a new record. 

Crude prices _ which rose as high as $99.29 on the New York Mercantile Exchange earlier Wednesday and broke the previous intraday record of $98.62 set earlier this month - retreated after a mixed inventory report that did little to change a prevailing view that oil supplies will tighten amid rising demand. 

"It's two steps forward, then one back in terms of this week's inventory cushion,'' said Tim Evans, an analyst at Citigroup Inc. in New York. 

A swoon in the stock market also pressured oil prices Wednesday.  

Energy investors worry that falling equities are a symptom of a weakening economy, which would use less oil and gasoline. 

In London, December Brent crude fell 65 cents to settle at $94.84 a barrel on the ICE Futures exchange. 

"Not exciting enough to get us over the hump just yet,'' said Phil Flynn, an analyst at Alaron Trading Corp. in Chicago, referring to the inventory data. 

Crude prices are within the range of inflation-adjusted highs set in early 1980.  

Depending on how the adjustment is calculated, $38 a barrel then would be worth $96 to $103 or more today. 

Other energy futures were mixed. 

December gasoline fell 1.44 cents to settle at $2.4371 a gallon on the Nymex.  

December natural gas rose 7.3 cents to settle at $7.55 per 1,000 cubic feet. In a separate report, the EIA said natural gas inventories grew by 4 billion cubic feet last week, in line with expectations. 

Oil inventories fell by 1.1 million barrels last week, versus a 700,000 barrel increase analysts surveyed by Dow Jones Newswires, on average, had expected.  

Inventories at the closely watched Nymex delivery terminal in Cushing, Oklahoma, rose by 1.2 million barrels, however.  

It was the first substantial increase in Cushing stocks in weeks, and the largest since the end of August. 

The Cushing terminal is the physical delivery point for Nymex crude. Falling supplies there are seen as a symptom of a tight market.  

Those concerns ease when Cushing inventories rise. 

The EIA also said refinery activity fell last week, countering expectations for a slight increase.  

Gasoline inventories grew less than expected, but distillate supplies fell by 2.4 million barrels, far more than expected. 

The decline in overall crude supplies can be explained in part by imports, which fell by an average of 667,000 barrels a day, or about 6 percent, last week. 

Gasoline imports rose 11 percent. 

Demand for gasoline remains tepid, a function of higher prices, analysts say.  

Demand for gasoline rose by 35,000 barrels last week, and by 0.3 percent over the last four weeks compared to the same period last year, the EIA said. 

The Nymex will be closed on Thanksgiving Day Thursday and will close early Friday. 

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