Updated from 1:50 p.m. EDT
Crude futures shot back above $53 Friday following reports that labor talks involving Nigerian oil workers had stalled.
Crude for November delivery closed up 64 cents to $53.31, breaching the psychologically important barrier for the second time in two days. The price continues to reflect pressure created by a U.S. inventory report on Wednesday, which showed crude stocks slightly tighter than forecast and a possible shortage in heating oil.
The November contract has closed at record highs four consecutive days.
Nigerian oil workers threatened Thursday to join a two-day walkout starting Monday pending ongoing government negotiations, which reportedly broke down around midday. Futures spent most of the morning easing.
Oil has been on an upward march for three weeks because of concerns about damaged production capacity along the U.S. Gulf Coast. The cost of a barrel of oil is currently up 60% this year alone, taxing big industrial users and, by some accounts, threatening the sustainability of the U.S. economic recovery.
One analyst voiced a contrarian view of the run-up Thursday.
"One of the key points I've been trying to push to the forefront is that oil is being driven by the strong demand side of the equation," suggesting that "maybe the economy isn't in as much of a slow patch as we had all assumed," said Marc Pado, market strategist for Cantor Fitzgerald.
"Given the demand for oil that we've seen both domestically and internationally, there must be more strength behind us," Pado said. "It's not just a price issue. It's a use issue."
Whatever the catalyst, market participants see little prospect of relief. A survey by
published Friday found 33 of 45 traders and analysts forecasting an increase in New York oil futures next week.