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THE NEW YORK TIMES: Oil Prices Slide As Traders Take Profits

By THE ASSOCIATED PRESS
Crude oil futures fell as traders took profits after the contract briefly topped $68 a barrel in the previous session for the first time in more than two months.
Markets on Friday also took heart from optimistic comments by an oil company executive about restoring production in Nigeria.
Light, sweet crude for May delivery on the New York Mercantile Exchange lost 55 cents to settle at $67.39 a barrel. May Brent at London's ICE Futures exchange fell 55 cents to close at $67.29 a barrel.
''What the market has found is that the $68-level has a rather strong resistance, and so the contract is now retreating slightly on profit taking,'' said energy analyst Victor Shum of Purvin & Gertz in Singapore.
Crude oil prices had risen since U.S. government data released this week showed domestic supplies of gasoline shrank by 4.4 million barrels last week to 211.8 million barrels. That has further driven concerns about summer supplies, even though the stockpile was roughly in line with year-ago levels.
The decline in refined products comes as refineries temporarily shut down operations for maintenance. Vienna's PVM Oil Associates said production output was 120,000 barrels a day lower than the week before.
''The drawdown is uncomfortable to some traders but when refineries return after maintenance, I'm sure they'll produce the products to get ready for summer,'' Shum said. ''The threat to U.S. product supply is driving the market but it's not disrupting anything yet.''
Nymex May gasoline futures fell 2.33 cents to finish at $1.9766 a gallon while heating oil fell less than a penny to close at $1.8826 a gallon. Natural gas futures declined 22.9 cents to settle at $6.743 per 1,000 cubic feet.
U.S. crude oil inventories increased by 2.1 million barrels last week to 342.8 million barrels, or almost 8 percent above year-ago levels. But tension between the West and Iran and violence in Nigeria continued to support prices.
In Nigeria, about 27 percent of output has been knocked out by militant attacks in the Niger Delta region. Militants have pledged more attacks to get southerners a bigger cut of the oil revenues held by the federal government. The country usually produces 2.4 million barrels a day.
Oil company and Nigerian officials said Friday they were optimistic that oil production would recover as soon as next week.
Malcolm Brinded, Royal Dutch Shell PLC's executive director of exploration and production, said some 455,000 barrels a day of its joint-venture output in Nigeria remained locked down.
However, ''after the meeting the (Nigerian) president held this week, I'm very optimistic we'll be able to go and review the assets in the near future,'' he said at an oil conference in Paris.
The head of the International Energy Agency said Friday that he saw no need to release government-held strategic oil stocks, despite high prices.
''There's no lack of supply for the time being,'' said Claude Mandil, who leads the oil security watchdog for the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development. ''If there's any disruption'' in oil flows ''due to political problems, we will consider using the stocks.''

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