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AP Worldstream: Crude futures fall below US$67 a barrel on slight profit-taking

Mar 31, 2006
Crude oil prices retreated Friday as traders took profits following continuous gains over the last three sessions due to strong demand for fuel and falling U.S. gasoline inventories.
Light, sweet crude for May delivery fell 27 cents to US$66.88 a barrel in Asian electronic trading on the New York Mercantile Exchange midmorning in Singapore. The contract on Thursday gained 70 cents to settle at US$67.15 a barrel _ a two-month high.
Gasoline lost 2.57 cents to US$1.9700 a gallon (3.8 liters) while heating oil fell 0.73 cent to US$1.8770 a gallon. Natural gas declined 8.7 cents to US$7.400 per 1,000 cubic feet.
Analysts said concerns over falling U.S. gasoline stocks would continue to keep a firm floor under prices.
“Oil prices have been moving up so quickly in the past few days, so traders are just taking a slight profit now ahead of the weekend,” said Tetsu Emori, chief commodities strategist at Mitsui Bussan Futures in Tokyo. “But gasoline demand is strong and inventories have gone down, so I think prices will keep moving strongly up.”
Gasoline futures on Thursday jumped more than 4 cents a gallon on top of a gain of nearly 7 cents in the previous session after midweek data showed U.S. gasoline stocks fell by a surprisingly large draw of 5.4 million barrels last week, their biggest weekly draw since August 2003.
After climbing to their highest level in seven years last month, U.S. gasoline stocks have fallen nearly 10 million barrels in just the past four weeks, a trend analysts expect to continue for several more weeks as refiners undergo heavy seasonal maintenance work.
Prices also were supported by persistent supply disruptions in the Gulf of Mexico and Nigeria, and a U.N. standoff with Iran over its nuclear program.
On Thursday, top officials of the five permanent U.N. Security Council nations plus Germany urged Tehran to freeze uranium enrichment, but a senior Iranian envoy defiantly rejected the call, saying his country's activities were “not reversible.”
Iran, the No. 2 oil producer in OPEC, has been referred to the U.N. Security Council over fears it may want to misuse its nuclear program to make weapons.
In the Gulf of Mexico, oil output is still down by 343,000 barrels per day because of damage that occurred during last summer's hurricanes Katrina and Rita. That is roughly 23 percent below pre-storm output levels.
Nigerian oil output also remains a concern. Royal Dutch Shell PLC, the largest foreign oil company operating in the country, has shut in nearly half of its Nigerian production and says it won't resume operations until the country is safe enough for its workers. Some 550,000 barrels per day of Nigerian production has been shut in, analysts said.
Copyright 2006 Associated Press

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