Market watch, Dec. 20

International energy futures continued to waffle Tuesday as rumors of large imports of home heating oil into the US sent crude prices tumbling on the International Petroleum Exchange in London. The January contract for benchmark US light, sweet crudes dropped 43� to 29.33/bbl on the New York Mercantile Exchange.


International energy futures continued to waffle Tuesday as rumors of a large import shipment of home heating oil into the US sent crude prices tumbling on the International Petroleum Exchange.

The January contract for benchmark US light, sweet crudes dropped 43� to 29.33/bbl on the New York Mercantile Exchange, while the February contract was down 63� to $27.96/bbl.

Home heating oil for January delivery also declined 0.61� to 91.6�/gal on the NYMEX. Unleaded gasoline for the same month dipped 0.56� to 77.04�/gal.

However, the January natural gas contract jumped 57.5� to $9.102/Mcf.

In London, the February contract for North Sea Brent crude plummeted by $1.24 to close at $25/bbl on the IPE. That contract traded as low as $24.95/bbl as prices fell virtually all day from the opening high of $26.25/bbl. The steepest decline, triggering stop-loss sales mechanisms, came in the afternoon after NYMEX floor trading opened, analysts said.

Traders apparently anticipated an overnight report by the American Petroleum Institute to show a rise in US heating oil inventories for last week. That, coupled with the rumored import of heating oil in preparation for the severe weather predicted for the Northeast US, would have brought supply and demand closer to balance, said analysts.

Instead, the API report�released after the close of NYMEX trading Tuesday�showed an 891,000-bbl drop in distillate stocks, including heating oil.

Brokers said a technical recovery was inevitable to allow untraded price gaps to be filled.

On the IPE, the January natural gas contract was down 10� to the equivalent of $4.06/Mcf.

On the Singapore exchange, the February contract for North Sea Brent crude fell $1.24 to $25/bbl. The March position fell $1.16 to $25.14/bbl.

The average price for the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries� basket of seven crudes lost 51� to $23.87/bbl.

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