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Oil Prices Surpass $58 a Barrel Mark

Associated Press | April 4, 2004
By WEE SUI LEE

SINGAPORE - Oil prices topped $58 a barrel Monday for the first time as ministers from the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries consulted on a production ceiling increase to ease supply fears.

After touching a high of $58.28 in electronic trade, light, sweet crude for May delivery was up 58 cents to $57.85 a barrel in morning trade on the New York Mercantile Exchange. That topped the intraday high of $57.70 a barrel reached Friday, when the contract settled at a record $57.27.

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Heating oil prices rose more than a cent to $1.6754 a gallon, while unleaded gasoline rose nearly a cent to $1.7405 a gallon.

Brent crude rose 48 cents to $56.99 a barrel on the International Petroleum Exchange, after exceeding $57 a barrel earlier in the session.

OPEC President Sheik Ahmed Fahd Al Ahmed Al Sabah, who is Kuwait's energy minister, said Monday that consultations started two days ago and ministers believe "we have to wait to see exactly how" prices behave in the next two weeks.

Any production increase would occur in May, Al Sabah said before a Parliamentary session.

"Until now, there is no shortage in the market" and there is enough supply, he said. "I think if prices continue to increase, we should increase the 500,000 (barrels a day)."

The group's oil ministers were "also waiting for the U.S. gasoline inventory," he added.

At its meeting last month, OPEC increased its production ceiling by 500,000 barrels to 27.5 million barrels a day and said it might provide for another 500,000 barrels a day if crude prices did not stabilize.

Al Sabah has attributed the recent change in prices to psychological fears of supply shortages and added that OPEC should reassure the market in order to cap the price surge.

OPEC already is exceeding the production ceiling, at around 28 million barrels a day, according to Al Sabah.

Lorraine Tan, director of research at Standard & Poor's investment services in Singapore, said the timing of OPEC's actions is crucial in affecting crude prices.

"If OPEC acts quicker, prices would come off," she said.

Prices have gained more than $3 a barrel since Thursday, when Goldman Sachs, a major trader in the energy markets, released a report saying oil markets might have entered a "super-spike" period that could eventually push prices toward $105 a barrel.

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