Oil Prices Retreat in Thin Asian Trading

Published 12:00 am Monday, December 26, 2005

SINGAPORE – Oil prices retreated Friday amid thin trading as traders repositioned themselves before the expiration of the front-month crude futures contract at the end of the session.

Light, sweet crude for August delivery fell 12 cents to $75.80 a barrel on the New York Mercantile Exchange, midmorning in Singapore.

The contract rose 87 cents, or 1.2 percent, to close at $75.92 a barrel Thursday, after hitting an 11-month high of $76 right before the end of the trading day. A front-month contract last settled over $76 a barrel on Aug. 9, 2006.

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The Nymex September crude contract, which becomes the front-month contract at the end of Friday trade in New York, dropped 8 cents to $75.99 a barrel in afterhours trade.

In London, Brent crude for September delivery retreated 17 cents to $77.50 a barrel on the ICE Futures exchange.

Crude oil prices rose Thursday after Total SA declared force majeure _ a contractual clause absolving a supplier for delivery delays beyond its control _ at its 240,000 barrel-a-day Dalia field facility in Angola. Production at the facility fell to 127,000 barrels due to an electrical problem, but is expected to return to full output within one or two days.

Prices also gained Thursday on Wednesday’s U.S. inventory report that showed declines in both oil and products stocks.

The report also showed U.S. gasoline demand over the previous four weeks has surged to record levels, keeping the fuel as one of the leading movers of global oil prices. Gasoline supplies have been a concern since a round of refinery outages in the spring left the U.S. with supplies deemed insufficient for the North American summer driving season.

U.S. gasoline stockpiles dropped 2.3 million barrels in the week ended July 13, the weekly report by the statistical arm of the U.S. Energy Department showed.

Stockpiles of crude oil and distillates, which include heating oil and diesel fuel, also dropped last week.

Crude oil stockpiles fell 500,000 barrels, compared with a forecast for a 760,000-barrel drop. Distillates, which include heating oil and diesel, fell 200,000 barrels. Expectations had been for a 780,000-barrel gain.

U.S. gasoline demand in the four weeks ended July 13 was 9.626 million barrels a day, the Energy Information Agency’s data show, a gain of 1.3 percent from a year ago and the highest on record for any four-week period. Demand the past week was 9.71 million barrels a day, the second-highest ever and just 11,000 barrels a day below the record weekly level set July 1, 2005.

Heating oil futures lost 0.18 cent to $2.1125 a gallon while gasoline advanced 0.36 cent to $2.195 a gallon. Natural gas prices rose 3.4 cents to $6.74 per 1,000 cubic feet.

A service of the Associated Press(AP)