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THE WALL STREET JOURNAL: Crude Oil Rises 4.2%, Lifted by Supply Fears

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February 9, 2008; Page B5

Crude-oil futures jumped more than 4%, buoyed by a combination of supply jitters and winter shivers in the U.S. Northeast.
Light, sweet crude for March delivery rose $3.66, or 4.2%, to $91.77 a barrel on the New York Mercantile Exchange, the highest settlement since Jan. 30 and the largest single-day dollar and percentage gain since Dec. 12.

The oil market took off on perceptions that world oil supply could fall back in coming weeks. Two Middle East delegates to the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries said the cartel should agree to curtail output at its next meeting March 5, as crude stockpiles are recovering and oil demand may be on the wane. Venezuela’s oil minister, Rafael Ramirez, said the OPEC member country is looking into supporting a cut.

The uncertainty over Venezuela’s next steps after Exxon Mobil Corp. won court orders freezing $12 billion in assets belonging to the Venezuelan state oil company in response to an Exxon oil project nationalized last summer also supported oil prices. Mr. Ramirez called Exxon’s gambit “legal terrorism.”

Nauman Barakat, senior vice president at Macquarie Futures USA in New York, said the market feared Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez could retaliate by slowing his nation’s oil exports. “There’s no way Chávez is going to roll over and play dead on this,” Mr. Barakat said.

Also bolstering oil prices, shut-in oil production in Nigeria is expected to reach a million barrels a day in coming weeks, market participants said. Royal Dutch Shell PLC earlier this week declared force majeure on crude exports from the Niger Delta region, indemnifying it from lawsuits if it fails to deliver oil as promised.

Crude found support from futures for heating oil as chilly weather was forecast this weekend in the U.S. Northeast, the world’s largest heating-oil market. While the National Weather Service sees above-normal temperatures across much of the Northeast later in the month, traders focused on the short term.

“Heating oil is leading the charge higher on the idea that there is some degree of cold temperatures that will squeeze supplies,” said Tim Evans, energy analyst at Citigroup in New York.

Talk that a U.S. recession and global slowdown could trip up oil demand has weighed on oil futures this year, knocking them from highs above $100 a barrel five weeks ago. The front-month Nymex contract neared a three-month low Thursday, bottoming out at $86.24 a barrel.

In other trading Friday:

WHEAT: Futures rose to record levels, trading to the daily exchange-imposed levels of 30 cents a bushel. The Minneapolis Grain Exchange held its spot as leader of the wheat rally amid strong demand for spring wheat and tight supplies, analysts said. MGE March wheat settled up 30 cents at $15.53, an all-time high.

ORANGE JUICE: March contract frozen-concentrate orange-juice futures on ICE Futures U.S. fell 3.85 cents to settle at $1.2870 a pound, a four-month low.

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