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Crude Oil Settles Above $81; Weak Supply

NEW YORK ( TheStreet) -- Crude oil futures slumped Tuesday, trading in a tight range before settling ahead of weak weekly inventory data.

The April crude contract shed 38 cents, or 0.5%, to settle at $81.49 a barrel, paring its losses since the price approached $80 earlier in the session.

Late Tuesday, the American Petroleum Institute, an industry trade group, said crude oil inventories rose 6.5 million barrels in the week ended Mar. 5.

The government's own data from the Energy Information Administration will be released an hour after Wednesday's opening bell. Analysts surveyed by Platts believe crude stocks rose by 2.1 million barrels last week. Schork Group analyst Hamza Khan said that was one of several factors weighing on prices Tuesday.

The reports are expected to reflect a 338,000-barrel drawdown in gasoline stocks, while distillate inventory levels probably fell by 950,000 barrels.

Several news reports suggested crude was being dragged down by the rising dollar, which itself got some lift after a Chinese official reiterated the country's commitment to buying Treasury bonds.

The dollar index, which measures the greenback against a basket of currencies, rose 0.2%.

Phil Flynn, energy analyst at PFGBEST, also highlighted an earlier Dow Jones report suggesting Chinese officials may relax the yuan's peg to the dollar, but he later discussed crude's continued difficulties holding around the $80 level.

"Psychologically, $80 is a very strong support, and most aren't convinced about what's going to take it out," Flynn said. "Bottom line, the market is a little overdone, so it's pulling back."

The United States Oil Fund ETF (USO) shed 24 cents, or 0.6%, to $39.55 and the PowerShares DB Oil Fund ETF (DBO) lost 18 cents, or 0.7%, to $27.60.

Among major integrated stocks, Exxon Mobil (XOM - Get Report) gained 30 cents, or 0.5%, to close at $66.78 and ConocoPhillips (COP - Get Report) gained 12 cents, or 0.2%, to $50.85.

Chevron (CVX - Get Report) lost 15 cents, or 0.2%, to finish at $74.49, amid plans to slash 2,000 jobs and take bids on some refining operations around the globe.

The NYSE Oil Index was fell 0.08%, while the Philadelphia Oil Service Sector Index declined by 0.6%.
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