Market watch, Dec. 26

Oil prices remain near their lowest level in 8 months, increasing the likelihood of production cutbacks by members of the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries during their next meeting in January, analysts said.

Some professed surprise at the rapid drop in prices for crude, down some 20% since November, although OPEC members warned that too much oil was being pushed into world markets even before their last production hike effective in October. Many investors have since bailed out of the energy futures markets in anticipation that a slow down in the world economy will reduce demand for energy supplies in 2001.

On Friday, the February contract for benchmark US light, sweet crudes rose 20� to $26.18/bbl on the New York Mercantile Exchange. The March contract gained 15� to $25.79/bbl.

The January contract for home heating oil was up 1.61� to 87.8�/gal, but unleaded gasoline for the same month dipped 0.03� to 74.09�/gal.

The January contract for natural gas fell 25.1� to $9.579/Mcf on the NYMEX.

In London, the February contract for North Sea Brent crude closed at $23.66/bbl on Friday, up 5� for the day on the International Petroleum Exchange. The January contract for natural gas gained 10� to the equivalent of $4.29/Mcf on the IPE.

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