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Crude Oil Falls Below $55

A refinery deal extends the recent focus on gasoline supplies.

Updated from 1:49 p.m. EDT

A morning rally in crude prices fizzled Monday, and futures ended the day lower on speculation about the president's meeting with the Saudi crown prince.

After going above $56 at one point, the June crude contract closed Nymex floor trading down 82 cents to $54.57 a barrel. Gasoline closed up a fraction of a cent to $1.65 a gallon, after rallying about 7 cents in the last two sessions.

Saudi Arabia's Crown Prince Abdullah is scheduled to meet with Bush Monday at his Texas ranch. Bush is expected to ask for a clear picture on Saudi oil production capacity, and tell him that "high oil prices will damage markets,"



News on a refinery megamerger also helped jump-start trading in the energy market Monday morning.

Valero Energy

(VLO) - Get Valero Energy Corporation Report

, an independent refiner, agreed to buy



for $6.9 billion in cash and stock.

"What is behind this deal is a very strong demand for oil and its products," says Joe Allman, energy analyst at RBC Capital. Allman says that refiners and integrated gas and oil companies are looking at very basic fundamentals of demand growth: crude oil demand is 5% higher that the five-year average and gasoline demand is 7% higher than the same average.

With that in mind, the latest consolidations mean companies want to make their production more efficient and increase revenues as market demand grows, Alllman says. He sees further consolidations occurring in the integrated oil sector, with

Anadarko Petroleum

TheStreet Recommends

(APC) - Get Anadarko Petroleum Corporation Report

being a possible "pretty attractive" buy. Next in line for acquisition could be

EOG Resources

(EOG) - Get EOG Resources, Inc. Report

, or

Chesapeake Energy

(CHK) - Get Chesapeake Energy Corporation Report

, Allman says.

But the merged entity doesn't mean more supply of refined gasoline in the market, Allman says. The fact that no new refineries were built in more than two decades to keep up with the growing demand is taking its toll on drivers at the pump, as gasoline and oil prices remain at record high levels.

A host of refinery stoppages in Louisiana and Texas last week generated a market rally for gasoline prices that still reverberates, despite data showing gasoline inventories are the highest in three years.

Another indicator showing oil and gas prices could rise into the fourth quarter is the relatively high cost of energy futures compared with spot prices. Normally, contract prices decline with time, as uncertainty about the future leads to discounting.

In the energy market today, future month contracts are trading at a premium. For example, the November crude future contract is trading upward of $57 a barrel, while today's spot prices are near $55.

Analysts say the trend shows that market players are expecting demand and energy prices to rise in the short- and midterm.

"This is very unusual. There is too much crude but not enough refining and products, and no one is certain if the U.S.'s and China's economies are really growing or slowing. It's really strange," says Rick Thompson, energy trader at Alaron Trading. Thompson says oil producers have already locked in prices for the summer contracts and stored their supply for later delivery.

"Companies have already traded on the

higher future price, to the point where there is no more storage space in the country. They would need to store products in places such as the Caribbean in order to deliver it in later months at higher prices," he says.

In earnings news,

Whiting Petroleum

(WLL) - Get Whiting Petroleum Corporation Report

, the oil and gas production company, said first-quarter net income more than doubled from last year, driven by increased oil and natural gas production and higher realized prices. Net income increased to $26.1 million, or 88 cents a share, on revenue of $103.5 million, from $9.6 million, or 51 cents a share, on revenue of $46.7 million in the same time a year ago. Earnings missed analysts estimated average income of 95 cents a share, according to Thomson Financial. Shares declined 38 cents, or 1.13%, to $33.32.

Shares of most major oil producers climbed, spurred by the refinery deal.

Exxon Mobil

(XOM) - Get Exxon Mobil Corporation Report

rose 77 cents, or 1.30%, to $60.19;


(CVX) - Get Chevron Corporation Report

increased 51 cents, or 0.95%, to $54.38;

Royal Dutch/Shell


jumped 61 cents, or 1.02%, to $60.36; and


(BP) - Get BP Plc Report

rose 67 cents, or 1.10%, to $61.73.