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Oil rises above US$76 amid US crude stocks fall

OIL prices rose above US$76 a barrel yesterday after bigger than expected U.S. draws in crude and gasoline inventories sent energy prices jumping higher.

Benchmark crude for February delivery rose US$2.27 to settle at US$76.67 on the New York Mercantile Exchange.

The contract rose 68 cents to settle at US$74.40 on Tuesday after the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries said the 12-nation cartel won't change production quotas, a move widely expected by investors. OPEC leaders called on group members to adhere more closely to current quotas and reduce cheating.

Other factors, like the weak U.S. currency have kept energy prices elevated. Because crude is priced in the U.S. dollar, investors holding other currencies like the euro can buy more crude when the dollar falls. The dollar mostly fell yesterday.

Meanwhile, crude inventories and gasoline supplies fell last week, the government said yesterday.

Crude inventories decreased by 4.9 million barrels, or 1.5 percent, to 327.5 million barrels, which is 1.1 percent above year-ago levels, the Energy Department's Energy Information Administration said in its weekly report.

Analysts had expected a drop of 2 million barrels for the week ended Dec. 18, according to a survey by Platts, the energy information arm of McGraw-Hill Cos.

Gasoline inventories fell by 900,000 barrels, or 0.4 percent, to 216.3 million barrels, which was 3.4 percent above year-ago levels. Analyst expected stockpiles to rise 1.3 million barrels.

At the same time, U.S. refineries ran at 80 percent of total capacity on average, flat from last week's level.

Inventories of distillate fuel, which include diesel and heating oil, fell by 3.1 million barrels to 161.3 million barrels for the week ended Dec. 18. Analysts expected distillate stocks to drop by 2.25 million barrels.

In other Nymex trading in January contracts, heating oil rose 6.32 cents to settle at US$2.0118 while gasoline gained 7.78 cents to settle at US$1.9666. Natural gas rose 10.6 cents to settle at US$5.821 per 1,000 cubic feet.

In London, Brent crude for February delivery rose US$1.53 to US$74.99 on the ICE Futures exchange.


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