Crude Draw No Help for Oil

Light sweet crude trades down $1.06 at $58 a barrel.
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Updated from 12:52 p.m. EST

Energy prices finished mostly lower Wednesday at the New York Mercantile Exchange, unaffected by weekly crude oil inventory numbers that were slightly more bullish than analysts had anticipated.

The near-term contract for light, sweet crude oil slid $1.06 to $58 a barrel. Heating oil fell 5 cents to $1.64 a gallon. Natural gas eased 13 cents to $7.24 per million British thermal units, while gasoline edged up a cent to $1.62 a gallon.

Energy commodity prices had weakened in overnight trading after showing strong gains on Tuesday. Analysts said that traders were most likely taking profits ahead of the inventory report, which was released by the Energy Information Agency at 10:30 a.m. EST.

Prices slid further after the EIA released its weekly crude oil storage numbers. Crude inventories fell by 600,000 barrels during the week ended Feb. 9. Analysts were expecting an increase of 1.6 million barrels of oil.

Distillate inventories dropped by 3 million barrels during the previous week. The consensus among analysts was for a decline of 4 million barrels. Heating oil made up the majority of the distillate withdrawals. Motor gasoline inventories fell by 200,000 barrels to end at 225.2 million barrels in storage.

Total crude oil inventories now rest at 323.9 million barrels. This is above the average range for this time of year, according to the EIA report. The relatively large inventory numbers are weighing on crude oil prices.

Geopolitical tension in the Middle East and Africa provides a logical rationale for keeping crude inventories high, according to Adam Sieminski, chief energy economist at Deutsche Bank in New York. Larger fuel inventories would reduce the risk of supply shocks if these areas of tension were to take a turn for the worse.

Bill O'Grady, assistant director of market analysis at A.G. Edwards, says that last week's distillate withdrawal was probably "the last hoorah for the distillate markets" this year. Although the eastern seaboard is now caught in a deep freeze, temperatures are expected to moderate after this week. "After February, winter is basically over," O'Grady said.

Among equities, exploration and production company

XTO Energy

(XTO)

finished the day 1.6% higher to $50.89 after JP Morgan upgraded its stock to overweight from neutral.

Ethanol producer

Verasun Energy

(VSE)

closed 3.8% lower to $15.17 after Goldman Sachs downgraded the company's stock from neutral to sell.

Occidental Petroleum

(OXY) - Get Report

advanced 3.2% to $48.10 on the day, and the

iPath Goldman Sachs Crude Oil

(OIL) - Get Report

ETF finished down 2% to $35.56.