Market watch: OPEC's preparedness to increase output staves off oil futures price increase

By OGJ editors

HOUSTON, Dec. 30 -- The continuing general strike in Venezuela as well as the looming threat of war against Iraq again forced futures prices for oil and petroleum products higher Friday on the New York Mercantile Exchange. But any gains made quickly were lost early Monday following the announcement by the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries that it was prepared to increase output to make up for any lost production, the Associated Press reported.

The February contract for benchmark US light, sweet crudes gained 23¢ Friday to $32.72/bbl on NYMEX. Oil prices continued to increase as the general strike to oust Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez entered its 29th day. The March contract for benchmark US oil also increased Friday, up 27¢ to $31.80/bbl.

Unleaded gasoline for January delivery was up 0.28¢ to 93.25¢/gal. Heating oil for the same month, meanwhile, lost 0.12¢ to 90.79¢/gal on NYMEX.

The January natural gas contract gained 26¢ to $4.99/Mcf on NYMEX. "The market opened steady, but traders liquidated their long positions following the (US) Energy Information Administration's report of a 95 bcf withdrawal from storage last week," said analysts Friday at the Enerfax Daily. Despite the draw being below analysts' expectations, Enerfax said, "A short-covering rally during the last half hour of trading saw the market push past $5(/Mcf) several times, but it was unable to sustain the momentum."

In London, the February contract for North Sea Brent oil gained 55¢ Friday to $30.16/bbl on the International Petroleum Exchange. The January natural gas contract lost 20¢ to the equivalent of $3.60/Mcf Friday on IPE.

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