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Crude Inches Up as Market Eyes Oil Slick

NEW YORK ( TheStreet) -- Crude prices showed moderate gains Monday as investors and officials alike eyed the fallout from a massive oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico.

The June crude delivery contract added 4 cents, or 0.1%, to settle at $86.19 a barrel.

Scrutiny intensified over the weekend about the growing oil slick, triggered by an explosion that sank a deepwater oil rig. The slick has now reached the approximate size of Puerto Rico, as BP (BP - Get Report) labored to curb leaks releasing some 200,000 gallons of crude a day.

Mike Fitzpatrick of MF Global said one danger is that shipping lanes could be blocked as a result of the spill, obstructing cargo to coastal ports and refineries. But he also was quick to highlight the continuing disconnect between basic supply data and prices.

"The market is trading more on sentiment than fundamentals," Fitzpatrick said. "I don't think the trade data supports these higher prices."

Oil prices and stocks were supported Monday by encouraging data feeding sentiment about the recovery. Economic conditions in the manufacturing ranks improved in April to their best rate of growth since June 2004, according to the Institute for Supply Management. Personal spending and income also edged up in March, though the personal saving rate dropped. The Commerce Department also said construction spending edged higher last month, even though analysts were looking for a marginal drop off. Even Ford (F) said sales rose 25% in April.

"I think that's really the big story, today," said Phil Flynn, senior energy analyst at PFGBEST, of the economic data. "Any buying based upon the loss of supply [because of the oil spill] is purely speculative at this point, but I think the prices wouldn't be as strong as they are without the improving auto sales and manufacturing numbers."

European Union and International Monetary Fund officials agreed on a $147 billion bailout package to put a salve on Greece's plaguing debt problems. The news, however, did little for the euro which fell Monday.

On an otherwise upbeat day for stocks generally, the fallout from the spill put a cap over oil-related equities. The NYSE Arca Oil index rose a mere 0.4% and the Philadelphia Oil Service Sector index inched 0.5% higher.

As headlines were bandied about concerning insurance, clean-up costs, liability and the like, Transocean (RIG - Get Report), the rig's owner, and BP, which leased the rig, saw shares trade in the red throughout the session. Transocean's stock, however, managed to close 0.8% higher at $72.91 while BP's stock lost $1.96, or 3.8%, at $50.19. With the White House putting a hold on new offshore drilling plans until a cause of the explosion can be found, shares for many major driller and servicer names also lost ground.

Exxon Mobil (XOM - Get Report) was the Dow's second worst-performing stock after Alcoa (AA). It added 7 cents, or 0.1%, to $67.84 during the session. Fellow blue-chip Chevron (CVX - Get Report) gained $1.39, or 1.7%, to close at $82.83.

Also on the Nymex, June natural gas gained 8 cents, or 2%, to settle at $4 per million British thermal units. June heating oil added 6 cents, or 2.5%, to settle at $2.35 a gallon, while June gasoline advanced by 4 cents, or 1.6%, to settle at $2.44 a gallon.

--Written by Sung Moss and Melinda Peer in /New York.

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SYM TRADE IT LAST %CHG
BP $30.71 -5.20%
CVX $76.77 -1.90%
RIG $13.45 0.52%
XOM $72.50 -1.70%
AAPL $109.18 -1.10%

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