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THE NEW YORK TIMES: Profit – Taking Drags on Oil

Profit – Taking Drags on Oil

By REUTERS
Published: April 21, 2006

Filed at 0:23 a.m. ET

SINGAPORE (Reuters) – Oil fell nearly $1 on Friday on profit-taking by fund investors after a rally to record highs, though prices held above $72 on tension over Iran's nuclear program and other supply disruption worries.

U.S. oil for new front-month June (CLM6) traded 75 cents lower at $72.94 a barrel by 0419 GMT, after hitting a new front-month record of $73.50. The May contract expired at $71.95.

London Brent (LCOc1) slid 67 cents to $72.51, after touching a record of $74.22 on Thursday.

“Traders and investors alike both succumbed to the temptation to take profits in a variety of commodities that have made big price gains,'' said David Thurtell of the Commonwealth Bank of Australia.

Supply sentiment has improved after Royal Dutch Shell (RDSa.L) said it expected to restart a key U.S. oil and gas field in the Gulf of Mexico by end-May, ahead of plan. The 140,000 barrel-per-day (bpd) Mars platform was damaged by Hurricane Katrina last year.

Crude stocks in the United States edged down last week from a near eight-year high, but prices had rallied after the U.S. government reported a larger-than-expected decline in gasoline inventories, a seventh draw that put them nearly 5 percent below last year's level.

A war of words between Iran and the West over Tehran's resolve to continue its nuclear program have also pushed prices up as analysts fear the dispute could escalate, disrupting shipments from the world's fourth-biggest exporter.

U.N. INSPECTORS' VISIT

Iran scoffed at the idea of U.S. military action to halt its nuclear program and gave no hint of compromise on Thursday before a visit by U.N. inspectors to assess Iranian compliance with U.N. Security Council demands.

President Bush has vowed to stop Iran from getting atomic weapons and has refused to rule out military options, including nuclear strikes, if diplomacy fails.

The United States, Britain and France want the Security Council to approve targeted sanctions on Iran, such as travel bans and asset freezes, if it refuses to back down. But China and Russia, the council's other two veto-holders, doubt punitive measures will work.

Disruptions to Nigerian supplies continue with almost a quarter of the OPEC member's output cut after militant attacks.

The volume of OPEC oil to be shipped fell 390,000 bpd in the four weeks to May 6, as Asian refiners cut imports ahead of a heavy maintenance season, an oil shipping analyst said on Thursday.

The oil cartel seems powerless to bring down prices, as it is already pumping close to its limits, though ministers will take the opportunity to hold informal discussions on April 24 during a meeting of the International Energy Forum in Doha.

The world's energy consumers and producers will meet in Qatar from Saturday to explore ways or bringing down record prices, but few expect a quick fix.

“PFC Energy forecasts a mixed picture on fundamentals to send prices to new highs in 2006 and 2007 as tight production and refining capacity remains relatively unchanged,'' said Bakhtiar Talhah of consultancy PFC Energy.

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