Oil futures briefly passed US$76 a barrel before settling lower in a volatile session driven by the August contract's expiration.
Refinery problems in the US Midwest caused the most recent foray by gasoline prices above US$3 a gallon (US$0.80 a liter). But US refineries are returning to service after a spring that had seen an unusual number of unexpected problems. That is adding to the sentiment among futures investors that gasoline prices have peaked for the year.
Meanwhile, gas futures prices, which have fallen in six of the last seven trading days, extended their decline.
The August gasoline contract edged down US$0.0268 to settle at US$2.1646 a gallon on the New York Mercantile Exchange. Gas futures fell US$0.0602, or 2.7 percent, over the course of the week.
"There are extremely bearish technicals," in the gasoline futures market, said Jason Schenker, an economist at Wachovia Corp.
Oil futures fell US$0.35 to settle at US$75.57 a barrel on the NYMEX after trading as high as US$76.13 early in the day.
A front-month contract last settled above US$76 a barrel on Aug. 9 last year.
The NYMEX September crude contract fell US$0.28 to settle at US$75.79.
Crude oil ended the week up US$1.64, or 2.2 percent, and set 11-month records nearly every day.
Linda Rafield, senior oil analyst at Platts, the energy research arm of the McGraw-Hill Cos, said that Friday's trading reflected investors closing out their August holdings.
"You always get additional volatility ahead of a contract expiration," she said.
NYMEX natural gas prices slipped US$0.26 to settle at US$6.446 per 1,000 cubic feet (US$0.2276 per cubic meter) after a group of companies headed by Anadarko Petroleum Corp started producing gas from their new Independence Hub platform in the Gulf of Mexico. Natural gas inventories have also been growing in recent weeks.
"Supply looks like it's going up even more, so prices go down," Schenker said.
NYMEX heating oil futures fell US$0.0221 to settle at US$2.0922 a gallon. In London, Brent crude for September delivery fell US$0.03 to settle at US$77.64 on the ICE Futures exchange.
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