Originally created 11/23/04

Oil hovers near $49 a barrel amid winter supply fears



LONDON - Crude oil futures prices fell around the globe on Monday following a steep run-up on Friday that was prompted by persistent concerns about winter fuel supplies.

Light sweet crude for January delivery settled at $48.64 per barrel, down 25 cents, on the New York Mercantile Exchange. In London, Brent crude fell 51 cents to $44.38 per barrel on the International Petroleum Exchange.

Traders said profit-taking and mild weather, which caused a decline in natural gas futures, helped push the market lower.

The price had jumped more than $2 a barrel on Friday on concerns about tight winter fuel supplies and speculation that the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries may scale back output.

"I think that the focus right now... is how are things going to be over the winter months," said Sam Dale, bureau chief at Energy Intelligence in Singapore.

U.S. crude supplies now stand at 292.3 million barrels, slightly above last year at this time. But the supply of distillate fuel is at 114.6 million barrels, or 14 percent below year ago levels. The quantity of high-sulfur distillate used for heating oil is 16 percent below year ago levels.

Nymex crude futures are more than $6 cheaper than the peak closing price of $55.17 set twice in late October. Oil prices would have to surpass $90 per barrel to meet the inflation-adjusted peak set in 1980.

December gasoline futures declined by 2.15 cents to $1.2894 per gallon, while heating oil futures fell 3.77 cents to $1.4449 per gallon.

Natural gas futures fell 35.3 cents to $6.762 per 1,000 cubic feet on Nymex, but remain 44 percent higher than a year ago in spite of the nation's abundant pre-winter supply.

Markets have been tense all year due to limited excess production capacity and surprisingly strong demand, notably from China. The tight production capacity leaves little wiggle room in the event of a production outage, which is why traders are paying such close attention to events in key producing nations such as Nigeria, Russia and Iraq.

Traders said there were also renewed concerns about OPEC's intentions. Its members gather Dec. 10 to assess their supply commitments.

Representatives for Iran and Venezuela last week suggested that a cut in output may be necessary to prevent oil prices from plummeting. Commitments by OPEC to pump up their collective supplies in recent months have been one of the factors that helped bring prices off their highs.

Over the weekend, violence continued to flare in Iraq, while Russian authorities were reported to have searched the homes of dozens of managers working for the embattled Yukos oil company.

Jitters over both oil-producing areas have served to spur increases in recent months, but Dale said their impact was less evident in Monday's session.

In Russia, the Interfax news agency quoted an unidentified Yukos board member as saying that dozens of Yukos managers in Moscow and across Russia have been targeted in a far-ranging official investigation, and many of them have had their homes searched at night.

Associated Press Writer Jake Lloyd-Smith in Singapore contributed to this report.