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Wednesday, April 9, 2008

Oil prices surge on weaker-than-expected inventories: Financial News - Yahoo! Finance

Oil prices surged to record levels Wednesday after a government report showed an unexpected decline in crude supplies.

Light, sweet crude for May delivery rose $3.55 to $112.05 a barrel, after touching a record $112.15 in Globex trading. That beat the intraday mark of $111.80 set March 17.

"I think you can bank on oil closing at above $110 today," said Mark Waggoner, president of Excel Futures, a California-based commodities trading firm.

In its weekly inventory report, the Energy Information Administration said crude stocks fell by 3.2 million barrels in the week ended April 4. Analysts had been expecting an increase of 2.4 million barrels, according to a Dow Jones poll.

The big decrease, according to Stephen Schork, publisher of Pennsylvania-based industry newsletter The Schork Report, is simply "a one-off that will be corrected over the course of the next two reports."

The EIA's inventory report is released once a week. "All the trading community wants to do is focus on the headlines," Schork added.

The EIA said that gasoline supplies fell by 3.4 million barrels. Analysts had only expected a drop of 2.3 million barrels. Distillates, used to make heating oil and diesel fuel, fell by 3.7 million barrels, more than the expected drop of 1.2 million barrels.

The supply report comes on a day when average gasoline prices hit a new record high of $3.343 at the pump, according to AAA.

The larger-than-expected drop in gasoline stockpiles is mostly due to the seasonal purge of winter-grade fuel, according to Schork. It's "very seasonal, very normal," he said. However, very low refinery production levels are "the wild card here" as the warm weather driving season approaches.

Refining levels are currently at 83.1%. They should be running at 89% to 90% this time of year, according to Waggoner.

"Oil companies need to ramp up ... fast," he said.

Refinery input rose by about 142,000 barrels a day last week, the EIA said. Gasoline and distillate production both increased slightly.

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