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Oil Prices Edge Past $51 Per Barrel

Associated Press | May 26, 2005
By EDITH BALAZS

BUDAPEST, Hungary -- Crude oil futures prices edged above $51 a barrel on Thursday after an unexpected drop in U.S. crude inventories ahead of the summer driving reason rattled markets.

Traders were expecting another increase in inventories. The decline reported Wednesday was just the second in 15 weeks.

Light, sweet crude for July delivery on the New York Mercantile Exchange climbed 12 cents to $51.10 in electronic trading by afternoon in Europe.

Heating oil prices edged lower to $1.4270 a gallon, while unleaded gas fell marginally to $1.4485 a gallon.

On London's International Petroleum Exchange, Brent crude for July delivery gained 5 cents to $50.12 a barrel.

The U.S. Energy Information Administration's latest petroleum data showed U.S. commercial crude oil inventories fell 1.6 million barrels to 332.4 million barrels in the week ending May 20 from the previous week.

The report sent July crude prices up more than $1 a barrel on Wednesday to finish just under $51 on the Nymex.

"Wednesday's rally was a blitz reaction to the U.S. data, we still expect the market to resume its downward movement," said Frederic Lasserre, head of commodities research at Paris-based SG Securities.

With massive Saudi exports to the U.S. not showing any sign of slowing, prices could slip below the $50 a barrel threshold in the near term, he said.

Crude prices are about $7 lower than their all-time high of $58.28 set April 4.

Oil analyst Victor Shum of Texas-based Purvin & Gertz in Singapore noted crude stocks 32.4 million barrels higher than year-ago levels.

He said the drop in crude stocks is to be expected as the United States gears up for the start of the summer driving season, starting with this weekend's Memorial Day holiday.

"In the short term, there's a possibility that by the beginning of next week, prices will fall after all the hoopla about Memorial Day is over," Shum said.

Meanwhile, U.S. gasoline inventories rose 600,000 barrels to 215.4 million barrels, up from 203.6 million a year ago. Most analysts had predicted a decline in gasoline stocks.

Distillates rose 1.9 million barrels to 105.7 million, up from 104.7 million last year but still in the lower half of the average range for this time of year. High sulfur distillates, or heating oil, comprised most of that increase, rising 1.6 million barrels to 39.7 million barrels, up from 35.9 million a year ago.

Comments from key Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries about possibly reducing production have also lent some support to prices. On Wednesday, Iranian Oil Minister Bijan Zanganeh said the option of cutting output is "something that needs to be discussed."

Last week, Venezuela's oil minister, Rafael Ramirez, said Venezuela, along with other OPEC members, would have to evaluate the proposal to decrease oil output at a meeting next month.

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