Market watch, May 30

Energy futures prices slipped in trading on the New York Mercantile Exchange (NYMEX) Friday after a mostly lackluster day of trading that ended with hectic selling activity by profit-takers. Traders were reluctant to hold positions over the long Memorial Day weekend in the absence of any new fundamentals-based development. The trading session was also short, because the exchange closed Friday at 1 p.m. ahead of the holiday weekend, which traditionally marks the start of the summer season.

West Texas Intermediate (WTI), the American benchmark crude, lost 51� to settle at $30/bbl for July delivery, while the August contract stood at $29.07, down by 56�.

Refined petroleum products also closed lower, with June home heating oil declining by 2.70� to settle at 76.39�/gal, while unleaded gasoline for the month pulled back by 0.97� to rest at $1.24/gal.

However, NYMEX natural gas for June delivery climbed by 17� to settle at $4.41/Mcf of gas.

After last week's initially sharp run-up, the June International Petroleum Exchange (IPE) natural gas contract lost some of its vigor, closing down Friday at the equivalent of $3.72, off 7�.

There was no after-hours electronic access trading in New York due to the public holiday.

Meanwhile, in London Friday, North Sea Brent crude oil futures ended mixed on the IPE.

Brent futures for July settled at $29.20/bbl, up by 1� from the previous close, whereas the August contract finished 7� lower at $28.12.

Gasoil also moved down -- by $2.50 for the June contract to $229.50/tonne.

North Sea Brent crude oil futures were lower at midday today on the International Petroleum Exchange (IPE) here, in line with brokers' expectations. Brent surged last week in line with futures prices on the New York Mercantile Exchange (NYMEX), but prices in excess of $29/bbl were felt to be a little too high to justify, even given the firm fundamentals and technical indicators.

However, brokers said market sentiment remained bullish and values may climb back beyond $29 bbl in the next couple of weeks, particularly if NYMEX trading continued to be strong.

Today, IPE July Brent futures were being traded at $28.85/bbl, 37� lower than Friday's close. The Exchange was closed Monday, due to a public holiday.

The price of the OPEC basket of seven crudes stood at $28.38/bbl Friday, compared with $28.78 the previous day, according to OPEC secretariat calculations. Last week, the price of OPEC's basket of seven crudes edged up to $27.99/bbl last week, compared with $27.97 in the third week of May.

According to figures released by the OPEC secretariat here today, the price of the basket so far this year, through May 25, has averaged $25.60/bbl. In April, the basket price averaged $22.93/bbl, as opposed to $26.71 in March and $26.84 in February.

For the first quarter of 2000, the basket price averaged $26.11/bbl, as against $23.42 in the fourth quarter of 1999. For 1999 as a whole, the price of the basket averaged $17.47/bbl, compared with $12.28 the previous year.

The OPEC basket comprises Algeria's Saharan blend, Indonesia's Minas, Nigeria's Bonny Light, Saudi Arabia's Arabian Light, Dubai of the United Arab Emirates, Venezuela's Tia Juana, and Mexico's Isthmus crude.

Meanwhile, the OPEC conference is still likely to be held in Vienna on June 21, as previously scheduled, the organization's secretariat announced Monday. Venezuela had asked other OPEC members to consider putting the meeting forward by five days, to coincide with a visit by the country's president, Hugo Chavez, to the secretariat on June 26.

However, with the postponement of elections in Venezuela, originally due to be held last weekend, Chavez may not now be able to make the visit to Austria at that time.

At the last OPEC conference in March, nine of the organization's members agreed to increase production by 1.45 million b/d in a bid to take pressure off prices, which have risen considerably over the year. The current market and the effectiveness of that decision will be examined at the June meeting.

OPEC members are Algeria, Indonesia, Iran, Iraq, Kuwait, Libya, Nigeria, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, and Venezuela.

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