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News >  Business

Oil prices near record

Associated Press

Oil prices briefly hit a new high above $57 a barrel Thursday and analysts said the recent rally appears to have steam left even after OPEC’s president said the group may authorize pumping an extra half-million barrels a day.

The nearly $15 run-up in crude futures since the start of the year has coincided with dollar weakness and rising global demand at a time when there is little excess supply immediately available. There are no fuel shortages, though traders are clearly pricing in that possibility, whether due to a terrorist attack, a refinery snag or some other unexpected supply bottleneck.

The Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries tried to ease market jitters on Wednesday by raising its output quota by a half-million barrels a day and saying an additional quota hike might be forthcoming. But traders were unimpressed by the largely symbolic move and pushed crude futures to a record settlement high Wednesday of $56.46 a barrel on the New York Mercantile Exchange.

On Thursday, light sweet crude for April delivery rose to a new intraday high of $57.60 per barrel before retreating to settle at $56.40, a decline of 6 cents that traders attributed to profit-taking.

While the price of oil is about 50 percent higher than a year ago, crude futures would have to climb above $90 a barrel to approach the all-time inflation-adjusted high set in 1980.

Brent crude also reached new highs on Thursday, hitting $56.15 a barrel before edging back to finish at $55.06 on the International Petroleum Exchange, an increase of 18 cents.

“I don’t see anything that can take this thing down,” said Michael Guido, director of commodity strategy in New York for Societe Generale. He said the fear of a supply problem — not an actual supply problem — is driving the market psychology.

If the economy took a turn for the worse, signaling a drop in energy demand, then prices might fall, Guido conceded.

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