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New Crude Contract Rises

Energy futures finished mixed in Wednesday's trading session at the New York Mercantile Exchange, but the new oil contract closed in on $60.

The May contract for light sweet crude, which assumed the role of the near-term tradable contract after the April contract expired, closed 36 cents higher at $59.61 a barrel. Reformulated gasoline and heating oil were fractionally lower at $1.94 a gallon and $1.66 a gallon, respectively.

Natural gas added 25 cents to finish at $7.16 per million British thermal units.

The Energy Information Administration reported new inventory figures for the week ended March 16 that caught many analysts by surprise. Crude oil inventories increased by 4 million barrels. Analysts at Bank of America Securities were expecting a 3.1 million barrel rise.

Gasoline inventories fell by 3.4 million barrels, as opposed to the 2 million barrel draw expected by analysts.

"The gasoline inventory number was very bullish, while the crude oil number was quite bearish," said Dennis Gartman, publisher of The Gartman Letter, in a phone interview. "The two opposing numbers make it difficult to walk away with a clear view of the market."

Crude oil's ability to climb on bearish inventory news may be an indication that it has found a technical support level, according to Thomas Hartman, energy analyst at Altavest Worldwide Trading. Crude prices have fallen steadily from a high of $63.28 a barrel since the first week in March.

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