MARKET WATCH
Energy prices fall Friday; Terrorist attack on US consulate may spur rebound

Sam Fletcher
Senior Writer

HOUSTON, Dec. 6 -- Energy prices continued to tumble Friday, with speculators pulling back as warm weather has failed so far to boost winter demand.

However, international wire serves reported Islamic militants early Monday forced their way into the heavily guarded US consulate in Jiddah prompting a gun battle with Saudi Arabian security forces. Initial reports said at least 12 people, including five local consulate staff members, were killed in the 3-hour assault. A new wave of terrorist assaults in the Middle East could renew market fears about crude supply disruptions and trigger a rebound in energy prices.

Meanwhile, ministers of the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries are scheduled to meet Friday in Cairo to evaluate the recent fall in crude prices and the loss of value of the US dollar against other currencies, particularly the euro. Prices might have fallen lower Friday, said analysts, if not for a statement last week by one OPEC official that the group might consider reducing production if prices continue to tumble.

Energy prices
The January contract for benchmark US light, sweet crudes fell by 71¢ to $42.54/bbl Friday on the New York Mercantile Exchange, while the February contract was down by 73¢ to $42.75/bbl. On the US spot market, West Texas Intermediate fell by 77¢ to $42.55/bbl. Heating oil for January delivery lost 2.13¢ to $1.24/gal Friday on NYMEX. Gasoline for the same month declined by 0.65¢ to $1.13/gal. The January natural gas contract slipped by 0.015¢ to $6.796/MMbtu on NYMEX.

In London, the January contract for North Sea Brent crude declined by 79¢ to $39.36/bbl Friday on the International Petroleum Exchange.

OPEC's basket of seven benchmark crudes fell by 89¢ to $34.53/bbl Friday. For the whole week, however, the average price dipped by 2¢ to $38.50/bbl. So far this year, OPEC's basket price has averaged $36.07/bbl, up sharply from an average $28.10/bbl in 2003.

Contact Sam Fletcher at samf@ogjonline.com

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