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Oil prices tumbled Wednesday as traders got defensive ahead of tomorrow's update on U.S. fuel inventories.

Newly benchmarked April crude was recently down $1.79 to $60.95 a barrel, reversing a three-day climb that added nearly 5% to the front-month contract. Natural gas futures fell 15 cents to $7.28 per million British thermal units, while gasoline prices were off 3 cents to $1.44 a gallon.

Prices fell in anticipation of Thursday's inventory report, which, according to a


survey, will show a 1.2 million-barrel climb in crude stocks, analysts believe. The same survey found analysts predicting a 1 million-barrel rise in gasoline inventories.



survey is calling for a 700,000-barrel rise in crude stocks and an 800,000-barrel rise in gasoline stocks. Both surveys expect distillate inventories to decline.

The amount of crude in storage is currently more than 10% higher than at this time last year. Front-month crude fell sharply last week after the Energy Department said inventories rose by 4.85 million barrels, roughly three times the expected rate.

Shares of energy companies were uniformly lower, with the Amex Oil Index losing 1.9% and the Philadelphia Stock Exchange Oil Services Index falling 2.8%.

Exxon Mobil


fell 1.2%;



fell 1.5%;



lost 2.2%; and



lost 2.1%.