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Oil prices fall despite drop in US stockpiles

A SLUMP in the stock market helped drag energy prices lower yesterday despite data showing U.S. crude supplies shrank for the first time in 10 weeks.

Benchmark crude for June delivery fell 83 cents to settle at US$58.02 a barrel on the New York Mercantile Exchange. In London, Brent prices dropped 60 cents to settle at US$57.34 a barrel on the ICE Futures exchange.

"I think a lot of people just stepped back and looked at the big picture," Mike Zarembski, senior commodity analyst at brokerage OptionsXpress Inc.

Prices for retail gasoline have been rising across the U.S. and they did so again overnight after the AAA reported that more Americans would hit the road this Memorial Day. It would be the first time that has happened in four years.

Researchers say Americans are taking advantage of comparatively cheap gasoline after staying home in recent years as prices surged. The U.S. average price for gasoline rose nearly 87 percent between 2005 and 2008.

Retail gas prices rose to a new national average of US$2.267 a gallon (60 cents a liter) overnight, according to auto club AAA, Wright Express and Oil Price Information Service. Prices are still US$1.465 a gallon cheaper than a year ago.

The enormous amount of crude, gasoline and natural gas in storage has kept prices in check. Despite a drop of 4.7 million barrels last week, crude in U.S. storage houses is the most since 1990.

Meanwhile, U.S. refineries, which make gasoline, pulled back on production last week, according to the government. That has helped put a floor under prices, which have tumbled because businesses and consumers are spending much less on energy this year.

In other Nymex trading, gasoline for June delivery increased 2.09 cents to settle at US$1.6888 a gallon and heating oil fell 1.7 cents to settle at US$1.49 a gallon. Natural gas for June delivery lost 11.6 cents to settle at US$4.333 per 1,000 cubic feet.


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