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Oil prices spill over US$80 again

OIL prices rose close to US$81 a barrel yesterday, climbing at a time of the year when crude and gasoline prices typically move higher.

Benchmark crude for April delivery rose 98 cents to settle at US$79.68 a barrel on the New York Mercantile Exchange. It went as high as US$80.95 earlier in the day.

Wholesale gasoline prices also increased. The April contract gained 4.10 cents to settle at US$2.1966 per gallon on the Nymex.

Oil prices have been drifting between US$70 and US$80 a barrel for most of the last eight months as crude demand remains weak in the U.S. and other industrial countries coming out of the Great Recession.

Prices often move higher in March as U.S. refiners switch to producing more expensive blends of gasoline to meet tougher pollution standards in effect for the spring and summer driving season between April and September.

"It is just going to be tough to force this market down this month," said Jim Ritterbusch of Ritterbusch and Associates.

Oil analyst and trader Stephen Schork said investors like to buy oil at this time of the year, expecting gasoline prices to move higher.

Investors also will be watching weekly U.S. crude inventory data set to come out Wednesday, as well as the February unemployment report on Friday, as possible indicators of fuel demand.

In other Nymex trading in April contracts, heating oil gained 3.26 cents to settle at US$2.0561 a gallon. Natural gas added 2.9 cents to settle at US$4.708 per 1,000 cubic feet.

In London, Brent crude was up US$1.29 to settle at US$78.18 on the ICE futures exchange.


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