Sun, Mar 13, 2005 - Page 10 News List

Expected surge in demand pushes oil price past US$54

AP , SINGAPORE

Crude oil futures prices climbed above US$54 a barrel on Friday after the International Energy Agency (IEA) estimated global petroleum demand would grow faster than previously expected this year.

Light, sweet crude for April delivery rose US$0.89 to US$54.43 on the New York Mercantile Exchange. Brent crude climbed US$0.44 to US$53.10 on London's International Petroleum Exchange.

In other Nymex trading in New York, April gasoline futures rose US$0.0344 to close at US$1.5175 per gallon, while heating oil futures settled at US$1.5427 per gallon, up US$0.0336.

A day earlier, energy futures retreated sharply in what analysts described as profit-taking after the market tested the October peak above US$55 a barrel on Wednesday, but couldn't surpass it.

"We are going to see some jagged action the next few weeks," said Ng Weng Hoong, oil editorial manager at energyasia.com.

The Paris-based IEA, a watchdog for the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, said on Friday that it expects world oil demand growth of 1.81 million barrels a day, bringing its forecast for average daily demand to 84.3 million barrels. In raising its demand forecast by 330,000 barrels a day from earlier estimates, the IEA cited a cold snap in late February and early March in the US and Europe, a sunnier outlook for US economic growth, as well as higher demand from China.

Analysts said worries over a March 16 OPEC meeting in Iran are easing as oil ministers assured traders in recent weeks that they would keep production at present levels.

Moreover, the latest US government petroleum supply report showed growth in crude oil inventories -- by 3.2 million barrels to 302.6 million barrels, or 9 percent above year-ago levels -- and only modest declines in supplies of gasoline and distillate fuel.

Nevertheless, analysts said crude prices remained generally strong on a weak US dollar and increasing global demand.

On Wednesday, crude traded in New York rose as high as US$55.65 per barrel before slipping to settle at US$54.77.

The recent rally has gathered pace as a drop in the US dollar -- the currency of international oil trading -- helped trigger higher crude prices and spurred funds to switch money out of foreign exchange markets and into commodities such as energy, metals and coffee.

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