Updated from 2:03 p.m. EDT
Oil prices clawed their way back into the green Monday, catching an oversold bid after five straight down sessions.
The May crude contract, which lost about 8% last week, closed up 39 cents to $53.71. The contract was down as much as $1 earlier in the session. Gasoline futures rose more than a cent to $1.549 a gallon; it closed at its all-time high of $1.73 on April 1.
Oil and gas prices were pressured last week by bearish data released by the government showing that crude reserves rose for the sixth straight week. Meanwhile, Saudi Arabia, OPEC's largest producer, pledged again to produce as much oil as possible to alleviate the recent price shock.
OPEC's president, Sheikh Ahmad al-Fahd al-Sabah, said Monday that the cartel will act on plans to boost oil production by 500,000 barrels in May,
reported. In March, the cartel boosted output by the same amount to 28 million barrels per day, effective April 1. "The market will dictate an extra 500,000
in May in preparation for the third quarter," al-Fahd al-Sabah was quoted as saying.
Presumably OPEC thinks the additional output will further ease prices. Analysts, however, speculate that the "pre-season dump" seen in oil prices is not over yet, and prices will continue to decline.
Gasoline started to fall last week, easing as data indicated refineries began boosting their production ahead of the summer diving season. The Energy Department said U.S. refineries were operating at 93.1% capacity in the last week of March, up from 91.1%. The same report said gasoline inventories were roughly 6% higher now than at this time last year.
"The recent rally in gasoline prices was a typical spring bloom that almost always happens around the end of March, in anticipation of driving season, and always eases later in April," says Tom Kloza, chief oil analyst at Oil Price Information Service, a private advisory group.
The price of crude, however, is more difficult to predict because lately it has been moving more on crowd behavior and money flow than on market fundamentals, Kloza says. "There is a lot of new money in crude coming from entities such as banks and hedge funds and not necessarily from industry entities. A lot of money is parked on the buy side and there is a fear that the trend will reverse."
According to Kloza, it is possible that crude prices will decline to or even fall through the key $50-a-barrel level in the short term, because the peak-demand season only begins in June. "A real rally might very well happen after the driving season, around August or September," Kloza says.
In company news,
, an independent refining company, was reduced to peer perform from outperform by analyst Jinhy Yoon at Bear Stearns, based on valuation. The company's share price range, however, was boosted, based on strength in the refining sector, Yoon said. Shares dropped 42 cents, or 1%, to $41.58.
Kinder Morgan Energy Partners
, which stores, processes and transports oil products, said on Monday it was acquiring seven bulk terminal operations for petroleum coke handling from Trans-Global Solutions for about $245 million. "This is a strategic acquisition that will make KMP the largest handler of petroleum coke in the United States," the company said in a statement.
Petroleum coke, or "petcoke," is a by-product of refining that can be used in industrial applications. Burning petcoke can be cost-efficient, but it also causes increased pollution. Experts say petcoke may be on the rise as highly industrialized countries like China, which lack pollution control, could increase demand for it. KMP shares rose 29 cent, or 0.63%, to $46.55.
, an oil and gas producer, said natural gas production for the first quarter of 2005 fell to 16.3 billion cubic feet, from the 16.7 billion it previously forecast, citing temporary pipeline shutdowns for repairs. Shares tumbled $3.26, or 8.24%, to $36.30.
Elsewhere, the Russian-British joint oil venture TNK-BP, 50% owned by
, said the Russian government is claiming $792 million in unpaid taxes from 2001. The company disagrees with the claim and is trying to renegotiate it, the
Shares of major oil producers were mixed.
gained 31 cents, or 0.52%, to $60.32;
rose 22 cents, or 0.39%, to $56.91;
gained 46 cents, or 0.75%, to $61.50; BP rose 33 cents, or 0.52% to $63.56; and
rose $1.06 cents, or 0.97%, to $110.19.