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Oil hovers below $129 on supply worrie

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« on: May 20, 2008, 01:29:27 pm »

Oil hovers below $129 on supply worries
Tuesday May 20, 1:54 pm ET
By Adam Schreck, AP Business Writer
Crude oil futures pass $129 a barrel for the first time, likely headed past $130

NEW YORK (AP) -- Oil prices spiked to a new trading high Tuesday, sweeping toward $130 a barrel as supply concerns intensified the momentum buying that has lifted crude deeper into record territory. Gasoline, meanwhile, reached an average of $3.80 at the pump for the first time.

The June contract for light, sweet crude traded as high as $129.60 on the New York Mercantile Exchange before settling back to $129.43, up $2.38. The imminent expiration of that contract created additional volatility in the market, and raised the very real possibility that crude could hit $130 before the end of the day, when the contract was ending.

Oil's trek toward $130 coincided with the Labor Department's report of an unexpectedly sharp rise in wholesale inflation last month. The combination raised fears that inflation will slice into Americans' discretionary spending, and that sent stocks falling sharply on Wall Street.

Retail fuel prices also shattered records. The national average price for a gallon of regular gasoline touched $3.80, according to AAA and the Oil Price Information Service, while diesel jumped nearly 2 cents to a record $4.54 a gallon. Gas prices are up about 19 percent from this time last year.

Jim Ritterbusch, president of oil trading advisory firm Ritterbusch & Associates in Galena, Ill., said oil prices were being supported by strong demand for diesel fuel in Asia, and a weakening of the U.S. dollar against the euro, which makes oil cheaper for some investors overseas.

"We're getting a combination of two price drivers this morning," he said.

Oil prices are now about twice as high as the were just a year ago. Prices have been propelled by a number of factors, including supply concerns, soaring global demand and a sliding dollar.

Industry observers in recent days have also pointed to especially strong demand for diesel in China, where power plants in some areas are running desperately short of coal and certain earthquake-hit regions are relying on generators for power. The country also seems to be ramping up diesel imports ahead of the Olympics, analysts say, driving up prices.

"They appear to stockpiling," Ritterbusch said.

Crude's latest surge comes after OPEC's president was quoted as saying the cartel won't increase its output before its next meeting in September, adding to lingering worries about global supply.

The contract reached a new closing high of $127.05 Monday after Algerian Energy Minister Chakib Khelil, the current president of the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries, was quoted by a government newspaper as saying OPEC won't increase its output during the U.S. summer driving season, which begins this weekend. OPEC's next meeting is scheduled for Sept. 9.

Through Monday's close, the front-month contract has hit nine trading or closing records in 11 sessions. Analysts have said speculative buying has also contributed to oil's record high run.

As oil prices reach new heights, so have gasoline and diesel costs.

"Average gasoline prices in the U.S. rose for an eighth straight week and for the 15th time this year, up 1.8 percent or 6.9 cents to a record $3.791 a gallon," noted Stephen Schork in his Schork Report. "Gasoline at the pump is averaging 28.5 percent above last year's pace."

Drivers in some parts of the U.S. are paying considerably more, however. Gas pump prices in parts of California have been stuck above $4 a gallon for weeks now.

In other Nymex trading, heating oil futures rose 8.88 cents to $3.7639 a gallon while gasoline futures rose 5.2 cents to $3.2886 a gallon. Natural gas futures rose 32.3 cents to $11.277 per 1,000 cubic feet.

In London, Brent crude for July delivery added $2.16 to $127.22 on the ICE Futures Exchange.

Associated Press Writers Thomas Hogue in Bangkok, Thailand and George Jahn in Vienna, Austria contributed to this report.

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