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Oil nears US$99; cold weather pushes natural gas to 29-month high

The price of oil rose one per cent Thursday as stockpiles declined and there were new indications that demand is rising in the United States, the world's largest crude consumer.

Meanwhile, natural gas soared nearly five per cent to close at US$4.46 per thousand cubic feet — the highest price since July of 2011 — after the government reported a huge draw in supplies, the result of cold temperatures across the U.S. in recent weeks.

The Energy Department said Thursday that natural gas supplies dropped by 285 billion cubic feet last week and are 261 billion cubic feet below the five-year average.

Benchmark U.S. crude for January delivery rose 97 cents to close at US$98.77 a barrel. Brent crude for February delivery, a benchmark used to price international varieties used by many U.S. refiners, rose 66 cents to close at US$110.29.

Oil prices rose despite a decision Wednesday by the U.S. Federal Reserve to reduce its stimulus spending, which analysts believe will eventually lead to lower oil prices. A reduction in stimulus spending increases the value of the dollar compared with other currencies. That makes commodities such as oil, which are priced in dollars, more expensive and less attractive to those using other currencies.

"A stronger U.S. dollar will play against commodities and will add to price pressure from the well-supplied oil picture for 2014," said Olivier Jakob of Petromatrix in Switzerland, noting that some investors had put money into oil futures exclusively because of the Fed's stimulus measures.

"On the basis of investment flows and of the U.S. dollar, we therefore take the tapering as a negative input for oil prices in 2014."

But the Fed reduced stimulus because the U.S. economy is improving, and that may increase demand for gasoline and diesel. The Fed announcement "conjured up images of an improving U.S. economy capable of standing on its own sooner than generally expected," said energy analyst Jim Ritterbusch in a report.

The American Petroleum Institute, an industry group, said oil deliveries, a measure of demand, rose 4.9 per cent in November. The U.S. Energy Department said Wednesday crude oil supplies fell by 2.9 million barrels last week.

In other energy futures trading, wholesale gasoline rose 4.3 cents to close at US$2.740 a U.S. gallon (3.79 litres), while heating oil rose 1.8 cents to close at US$3.025 a gallon.


The Canadian Press

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